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23:48, 26 June 2017 Monday
Update: 09:21, 21 May 2014 Wednesday

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Balkan floods may have undone years of landmine detection
Balkan floods may have undone years of landmine detection

Authorities are warning that many of the more than 100,000 remaining landmines dotted across Bosnia have been dislodged, shifting beyond the markers

World Bulletin/News Desk

When Mehmedalija Djapic bought his house on the banks of the River Bosna after the 1992-95 war, he had no idea the land around it was laced with landmines.

Fourteen years passed before the deminers scouring Bosnia detected his minefield and several months ago began the painstaking work of marking it with yellow tape and skull-and-crossbone signs.

In the wake of the worst floods to hit the Balkans in living memory, Djapic's courtyard was packed on Tuesday with rescue teams who fear the work they have done so far was in vain.

Authorities are warning that many of the more than 100,000 remaining landmines dotted across Bosnia have been dislodged by heavy rain, floodwaters and hundreds of landslides, shifting beyond the markers.

"Luck has been on my side so far," said Djapic, a 75-year-old refugee from eastern Bosnia.

"Last week the river was raging. I could feel the ground shaking under my feet and the waters reached the courtyard, but now the deminers are back we feel safe again," he said.

"The most difficult thing is to make my grandchildren understand they cannot play ball."

Mine removal experts estimate that more than 120,000 landmines remain planted across Bosnia, the legacy of a war that killed 100,000 people and displaced more than a million.

Bosnia's Mine Action Centre (MAC) has appealed for international help in getting more equipment and satellite screening to track the movement of mines after the heaviest rainfall in the Balkans since records began 120 years ago.

"There have been a number of reports that mines resurfaced after the flood and that landslides have moved whole minefields and markings," MAC head Sasa Obradovic told Reuters.

"We are struggling to pinpoint all these areas and warn people in time."

MAC says that more than 600 people have been killed and more than 1,700 more have been wounded in landmine accidents since the war ended in 1995. Obradovic said four people had been killed and 12 wounded this year alone.

He put the cost of ridding the country completely of landmines at 300 million euros ($412 million) by 2019. The country's reliance on agriculture and logging means few can afford not to take the risk.

"Bearing in mind that the impoverished population in rural areas relies on logging as the only source of income, there's a big risk of new incidents after such rainfall," Obradovic said.



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Cyprus president seeks peace deal in Switzerland
Cyprus president seeks peace deal in Switzerland

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said Monday he hopes to clinch a reunification deal laying out a new security blueprint for the divided island during a crunch summit in Switzerland this week. Anastasiades will attend United Nations-backed talks at the Alpine Crans-Montana ski resort Wednesday with "complete determination and goodwill... to achieve a desired solution", he said in a statement. He said he hopes to "abolish the anachronistic system of guarantees and intervention rights", with a deal providing for the withdrawal of the Turkish army. The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece. Turkey maintains around 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus. The so-called guarantor powers of Turkey, Britain and Greece retain the right to intervene militarily on the island. Greek and Turkish Cypriots are at odds over a new security blueprint, but their leaders are under pressure to reach an elusive peace deal. "I am going to Switzerland to participate in the Cyprus conference, with the sole aim and intent of solving the Cyprus problem," Anastasiades said. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci is also set to attend the summit, which is expected to last at least 10 days. Greece, Turkey and Britain will send envoys along with an observer from the European Union. UN-led talks on the island hit a wall in late May after the sides failed to agree terms to advance toward a final summit. Unlocking the security question would allow Anastasiades and Akinci to make unprecedented concessions on core issues. But they have major differences on what a new security blueprint should look like. Anastasiades's internationally recognised government, backed by Athens, seeks an agreement to abolish intervention rights, with Turkish troops withdrawing from the island on a specific timeline. Turkish Cypriots and Ankara argue for some form of intervention rights and a reduced number of troops remaining in the north. Turkish Cypriots want the conference to focus on broader issues of power-sharing, property rights and territory for the creation of a new federation. Much of the progress to date has been based on strong personal rapport between Anastasiades and Akinci, leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. But that goodwill has appeared frayed in the build-up to their meeting in Switzerland. The Greek Cypriot presidential election next February has also complicated the landscape, as has the government's search for offshore oil and gas, which Ankara argues should be suspended until the negotiations have reached an outcome.