Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the most mine affected countries in the world. Three percent of its total area (1500 km2) is potentially contaminated.
Five years old Belgian Sheperd Malinois Aaron takes a step to unexplored mine field, the tip of its snout barely touching the ground, searching. We can hear the uninterrupted sound of the fast breathing through the snout. The dog is perfectly concentrated and searches half meter wide and perfectly straight forward lane. Dog handler Alen Krijestorac checks the direction marks from the other side of the yellow square.
The moment of truth. The trust between the man and the dog gets tested when Alen Krijestorac takes the very first step to the mine field searched by the two dogs. He marks the meter wide safe lane with half meter wide safety areas on the both sides.
One meter wide safe lane is marked with yellow tape. The flat land looks like the former forest destroyed by clearcutting.
In Bosnian war 1992–95 this field near the Orašje city was the frontline between Serb and Croat armies. Now it’s split by the meter wide safe lanes. To step on the other side of the yellow tape is strictly forbidden.
Alen Krijestorac knows that the biggest risk on the mine field is to get used to the danger and lose the respect to the job you are doing. One mistaken step can be the last one.
Anti-personnel mines used in Bosnian war were usually dug between the trenches and the enemy. The location of Serb–Croat-frontline right here changed several times during the war – but the land mines remained underground for 15 years.
The de-miners and mine detection dog handlers are wearing ballistic vests and helmets. The mine detection dog coordinator Vedad Omerhafisovic is holding the map – the clearance plan of Orašje mine field.
The dog patrols search the mine field lane by lane splitting the mine field to squares, and again smaller squares. On the mechanically prepared land dog can detect the 11 meters long safe lane in 15 minutes. For a manual de-miner, like Elvis Arifovic in the picture, the same work will take two hours. To complete clearing both methods are needed, depending on the terrain.
“Søk!” The used command language is Norwegian, as it is for every mine detection dog trained by Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA).
After 11 meters there is a mark in the leash. Alen commands his dog to come back. “Kom og søk!” Aaron turns around and walks the same lane back to Alen, all the time searching, snout on the ground. The lane is detected four times back and forth.
The four hours of intensive mine detection is over. The working day of the dogs and the handlers is coming to an end. “Dogs have good days and bad days, just as humans do. But working together goes always well. Otherwise I couldn’t do this job. I trust Aaron completely”, Alen Krijestorac says. At home Alen has a wife and two kids. His eight years old son has already learned to be worried every time when daddy goes to work.
There are approximately 375 000 square meters of mine fields near the city of Orašje. Clearance was started by Norwegian People’s Aid in August 2010.
In the Bosnian war started after split of Yugoslavia there are still about 220 000 mines or unexploded remnants of war in the soil of the country.
Photo essay from my trip to northern Bosnia and Herzegovina in November 2010. I documented work of mine detection dogs, dog handlers and manual de-miners of Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA). The minefield in Orasje is a old frontline of Serb and Croat armies in Bosnian war 1992-1995. Beautiful day in Sarajevo, photo gallery