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Mine Monitors

By Maj. Marie Richter
First published in
SFOR Informer#123, October 3, 2001

The latest mine monitoring course has trained four new mine monitors to work with the Armed Forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina (AF in BiH) in continuing the de-mining tasks throughout Multinational Division-Southwest.

Banja Luka - SFOR invests a great deal of time and money training the Armed Forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina (AF in BiH) and equipping them with the necessary safety and de-mining equipment. Therefore, to ensure de-mining is carried out to the specified humanitarian standard, mine monitors from SFOR are employed to work with the de-mining teams and observe their practices.
All the mine monitors on the course are combat engineers beginning their tour in BiH. During their tour they will develop a relationship with the local entity de-mining teams that is more like a partnership rather than just a supervisory role. A mine monitor spoke about the role, "The monitors are officially to monitor each teams 20 percent of their working hours but in order for the teams to feel comfortable with the monitors and develop a good professional relationship, the monitors spend much more than the minimum stated hours with them." When a mutual respect and trust is gained it is easier to discuss any problems the teams have and find solutions together. The de-miners are all professionals who continue to do their potentially dangerous task despite having problems with pay.
Maintaining standards
The course focuses on the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for all types of de-mining. This includes the mechanical de-miners who use the "Bozena" provided by SFOR. This mechanical flail clears the ground of vegetation and breaks up the anti-personnel mines and renders useless any trip wires ready for further clearance procedures. The monitors are there to ensure the "Bozena" is used correctly within the safety guidelines, the operators are prepared and the equipment is serviced and used only for the purpose it was intended.
Working with the manual de-miners, the monitors ensure the sites are laid out correctly, no shortcuts are taken, the protective wear is in use and they are working to the agreed SOPs. The de-mining dog handlers are responsible for their dog 24 hours a day. They must feed and health check their canine partner daily and ensure it is well cared for. During periods where there is no de-mining they must continue daily training with the dog to maintain its skills. The dog handlers are also given a vehicle, which he is responsible for first parading. The monitors check all the handlers' responsibilities are carried out both on site and off. During any de-mining operations, an ambulance and medical team are always on site. The monitors, who are also there to protect the interests of the de-miners and ensure their safety is a high priority, again check this. The monitors report and advise on any deficiencies and also award effective de-mining. Warrant Officer Rob Reynolds from the mine cell spoke about the course, "It is not necessary that each monitor knows every detail about the SOPs but that he can find the information and check specifications are adhered to. A mine monitor has the power to close a minefield down if he is not satisfied with the safety or procedures."
Minefield visit
During the course the monitors went to Ostravac in the British area of responsibility to see a minefield actively being de-mined. Access was via a very waterlogged track requiring a good driver and Land Rover to even get there. The minefield site is by the Sava river, which was a confrontation line during the war and was contaminated with anti-personnel mines with trip wires. The land is owned by a local farmer who needs the land cleared before he can grow crops and make a living. Therefore priority was given for this site to be de-mined. The riverbanks flood in winter so the season of de-mining will end soon if weather conditions worsen. The VRS (Army of Republika Srpska) de-mining team leader guided the monitors through the minefield and showed them how much had been cleared and the obstacles ahead.
Natural obstacles
The de-miners face many natural obstacles including bad weather, floods, and fast growing vegetation, it is important for them to work on a site as soon as possible after the mechanical flail has finished otherwise they have to deal with the regrowth of bushes, etc. which complicates the task. They also have to work against time as some of the mine fields flood in winter and access is cut off from some sites. The owner of the land also becomes inpatient with the teams, as he wants to sow crops as soon as possible.
SFOR policy
De-mining Bosnia and Herzegovina is the responsibility of Entity Governments. The London Peace Implementation Conference (1996) required the authorities of the country to use for this purpose their military forces. All parties are obliged to maintain operational effective countermine capability and execute operations continuously throughout the year. SFOR is responsible for monitoring the standards of the de-miners and reporting on the effectiveness. Many mines still remain unmarked and therefore continue to be a danger to the citizens of BiH, which delays the return of Displaced Persons and Refugees and hampers reconstruction. Effective de-mining accelerates the returnee and normalisation process for the citizens.

Related links:
Engineering - Mines and De-mining
SFOR at Work