Illegal ammunitions' cache discovered

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Lt. Pedro Fernández Vicente
First published in
SFOR Informer#138, May 9, 2002

The French Battle Group (FRBG) seized 50 tonnes of ammunition, April 24. The ammunition was found in an underground cellar of an industrial premises in the area of Vrapcici, near Mostar. Numerous rumours had circulated about the presence of ammo in a former textile factory, but a telephone call provided MND-SE with the right information.

Vrapcici - Harvest operations are a constant SFOR concern. On this occasion the FRBG seized one of the biggest caches of illegal shells in the Force's history.

The place
"Djuro Salaj" is a big factory with a lot of land surrounded by a metal fence and under surveillance. The remains spread on the floor cover the entire industrial complex, showing what previously was an important industrial activity. The depot was in a closed basement in the last and hidden building.

The shells
The arms cache consisted of about five thousand 120-mm mortar shells, 850 kilos of complementary charges and 6,096 different kinds of fuses. Six shipping containers were needed to load it all. All the ammunition was in a perfect state. These munitions were produced in 1995 and 1996. The packages were piled up perfectly and well preserved and the wooden ammunition boxes seemed clear and clean as if they had just been made.

The work
"Some local people called the MND-SE Headquarters, providing information about the possibility of an illegal depot in the ’Djuro Salaj,’" said French Capt. Christophe Monnier, engineer officer of the FRBG. "An Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team belonging to the FRBG was then sent there, in order to check the news. The EOD reported that not only was the information true but also that there was a large quantity of ammo as well."
The EOD team is made up of two technicians specialised in explosives, one assistant and one medic.
"We entered the basement through a hole in the wall instead of using the stairs," explained WO Dominique Remy, EOD team leader. "The first thing we saw were the boxes of complementary charges. After the initial reconnaissance we cleared enough space for the whole team to work together inside the cellar.”
Remy further described the exeprience: “The place was in complete darkness. We had to work using the light from our head and hung torches. The reconnaissance was very slow and methodical. In a place like this, you never know if you will find any kind of booby trap, which forces you to be extremely careful. Due to the fact that more than three-quarters of the place was covered by boxes, we had to move in a kind of labyrinth. It was a very long day working in the dark to check the place, in order to make sure there weren't mines or booby traps."

The end
The destruction of the ammunition began April 30, in the presence of the local press. Even though it was only a small proportion to be destroyed, for demonstration purposes, it made a big bang.
The destruction of the remaining ammunitions will finish May 11, in Kalinovik fire range. SFOR and Ministry of Interior of Herzegovina-Neretva Canton (Canton 7) are carrying out the investigation in order to determine the origin and the purpose of this illegal depot. As stated by French Lt. Col. Nicolas Rambaud, MND-SE spokesperson: "I saw that many articles (in the local press) have been published about this, but that information is not official. It is local authorities who are responsible for that investigation, not SFOR. However, if we are asked to assist, we are ready to do so and provide all evidence regarding the case that is in our possession."

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: France
SFOR at Work

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Photo: Combat Camera

The French Platoon loads the first container.

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Photo: PO Susan Rose

As can be seen with the fuse box, all the ammunitions were well preserved.

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Photo: PO Susan Rose

Capt. Christopher Monnier, engineer officer of the FRBG, shows one of the 120-mm mortar shells.

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Photo: PO Susan Rose

Soldiers belonging to the FRBG take the ammo boxes out of the basement through a hole in the wall.

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Photo: PO Susan Rose

The EOD team checked each box before it could be removed from the area.