• Mine explodes in Bosnia as floods clear-up begins

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    SARAJEVO: A landmine dislodged by devastating floods in the Balkans exploded in Bosnia, officials said Wednesday, hurting no one but highlighting the dangers of a huge clean-up operation as governments began counting the costs.

    The device, one of an estimated 120,000 mines left over from the 1990s Yugoslav wars, went off overnight in the Brcko district of northern Bosnia, the national Mine Action Centre (MAC) said.

    A fridge containing nine explosive devices was also found in a flooded garden, it said. Other dangerous finds included a rocket launcher and a large plastic bin full of bombs and ammunition, also thought to date from the 1992-95 war.

    “Some mines are made of plastic and they float like plastic plates,” said Fikret Smajis from the MAC. “But even those made of iron… can be easily washed away.”

    Visiting NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Sarajevo the alliance was ready to help Bosnia as many member states have already sent helicopters and special expert teams to the country.

    “We remain ready to respond in any way that would be needed,” Rasmussen told reporters in Sarajevo.

    Water from the worst floods in more than a century, which have killed 51 people and forced the evacuation of almost 150,000 people in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, has started to recede in some areas.

    But the situation remained tense in both in Serbia and northeast Bosnia in the wake of days of torrential rain in southeast Europe last week that caused the river Sava and its tributaries to burst their banks.

    “The river Sava is still threatening,” said Blaz Zuparic, an official in the Bosnian town of Orasje pinning its hopes on a six-kilometre (four-mile) wall of sandbags.

    “The damage is so huge that the region will take more than 10 years to recover,” he said.

    “Only God can help us to hold on.”

    In Belgrade, where the Sava flows into the Danube, volunteers have been working around the clock to erect a wall of sandbags 12 kilometres (seven miles) long.

    Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said the death toll in his country has risen to 27.

    “This is already a huge number of victims,” Vucic said.

    More than 1.6 million people in the region have been affected. In Bosnia, a quarter of the 3.8 million population is without safe drinking water.

    Vast tracts of farmland are still under water, large areas are without power and many towns and villages remain deluged and difficult to access. The death toll may yet rise as more bodies are found.

    Authorities have warned of a risk of epidemics as drowned farm animals rot, and efforts by health experts and the army to recover the bloated carcasses have been hampered.

    “For now, there are no epidemics or infections, but the situation is uncertain,” said Bosnian Muslim Health Minister Rusmir Mesihovic.

    In Serbia around 200 tonnes of animal carcasses have been recovered so far, the agriculture ministry said. Health officials were also spraying against mosquitoes.

    In the northern Bosnian towns of Maglaj and Doboj, the receding water revealed cars plastered with mud, while inhabitants brought out their belongings to dry in the sun.

    Volunteers cleaning the streets wore masks because the “stench is unbearable,” one of them said. On every street corner, signs urged passersby to: “Keep masks on.”

    Plastic bags were hanging in trees 10 metres (30 feet) above the ground, showing how high the water level had been.

    In Croatia, the agriculture ministry also appealed to people to give homes to the “large number” of household pets separated from their owners by the floods.

    Preliminary estimates in Serbia indicate that the cost for cleaning up will far exceed 0.64 percent of the country’s total economic output, the level at which a country can request European Union aid.

    Vucic said the bill could be as high as one billion euros ($1.4 billion), with bridges and 3,500 kilometres of roads damaged.

    Serbia’s electricity company EPA alone will “suffer damages of more than 250 million euros,” Vucic said after talks with visiting European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) president Suma Chakrabarti.

    “We will do as much as we can to help this region… The first thing is to have a good sense of needs in terms of reconstruction,” Chakrabarti said.

    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that people “urgently need drinking water, food, tents, and medical supplies” and that the UN “stands ready to mobilise further humanitarian support if needed”.

    AFP

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