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New Europe

Day Sixteen: Sarajevo

Mine-clearing dogs 
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Meeting one of the mine-clearing dogs in the potentially deadly fields outside Sarajevo.
Michael Palin - New EuropeOnly after this work is done are the dogs brought in. They can detect explosive which might have been missed deep beneath the surface (my mind can't help going back to truffle-hunting in Istria).

We watch the dogs work, leading their handlers slowly up the hill alongside a strip of marker tape. The best dogs for mine detection, says Damir, are Belgian Shepherds, though some use German Shepherds or Labradors. Fortunately the stretch is clear, but to show us how the dogs react Damir plants a tiny amount of TNT a few inches down. When the dog encounters it, she actually points down at it with her nose, then sits back on her haunches, gazing proudly up at the handler who marks the spot.

Damir tells me that most of the de-mining teams are made up of ex-military. In many cases those doing clearing are the ones who planted the mines in the first place.

He defends them. Mine-laying was a military tactic, used in war to defend positions and kill enemy infantry who might otherwise kill you. He fought for the Bosnian government army in the war and laid mines himself.

'And at that time you do not think about consequences for civilians. At that time you think about your own life and how to protect yourself. During the conflict we did not think what would happen in Bosnia afterwards.'

Now they're paying a big price. Some of the devices, especially the Yugoslav-made 'bounding' mines are particularly well made and won't deteriorate.

'They don't get old, they just sit and wait.'

We walk back through some of the most beautiful unspoilt natural meadowland I've seen anywhere in Europe. In England this would be a nature reserve. In Bosnia it's a lethal problem.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Sixteen: Sarajevo
  • Country/sea: Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Place: Sarajevo
  • Book page no: 44

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