The sleep of the dead lasted till five am when I decided I should be in Australia again and woke up. No problem as the Norwegian Peoples Aid survey team would arrive soon. I think the greatest breaker of jetlag is to stay up, eat and drink then get to work at full speed.
The team arrived at eight and they were the usual band of rough diamonds that I’ve spent so much of my live with. Goran, Mirko and Miroslav all had a tale to tell as anyone who has lived in the Balkans these past years does. As professionals in the world of guns and bombs they stand head and shoulders above most. What I really admire in this potentially dangerous occupation is precision calmness. Know what to do and do what you know. No fear but no risks either. Get in, get it done and get out.
Driving out of Belgrade we headed south on the road to Nis. Nis is an episode that NATO would rather forget as they bombed the town in 1999 and killed and injured many civilians. It was a monumental mess up. They bombed the hospital, a school and the market place then tried to fob it off as collateral damage. Collateral damage is when your share price falls and not when you kill and maim innocents. We went to the various locations and the question in my mind was what direction were the plans flying. This can always be seen by the strike direction. The target in the area was the airport which was quite a way away. Maybe it was on line with the airport and either an over or under shoot. That philosophy evaporated as the directions did not line up with the airport so you can only put it down to stupidity, bad planning and incompetence. That may sound hard but welcome to the military. The words military and intelligence should never be in the same sentence.
This kind of situation is quite normal in war. Poor or rushed targeting, not following instructions, scared under fire are just a few of the factors that create these monumental screw ups. What I wonder is how the pilot who dropped them feels. Can he just strike them off as an occupational hazard or does he have nightmares from being an aerial mass murderer. Is it really acceptable to do this and hold no responsibility? Despite the protection of rules of engagement and so called military law, murder is murder. The pilot is a murderer, the planners are murderers, the politicians and diplomats who condone this are murderers.
I hope the pilot who did this never sleeps again. He should come to Nis and look in the hospital at the photos on the wall from that hideous day. The car park was on fire and dead and wounded were strewn about. Doctors with stunned looks ran for the car park and were trying the impossible with nothing at all. Men bleeding on the floor and a doctor trying to stem the bleeding with compression while another looks at the camera with that look of why, a female doctor and patient in an embrace with blood streaming out of the girls thigh. Here is your collateral damage, look on and soak it up.
As I look at my own body I realise it’s all I have. One life, one set of limbs, for one time only. I am not a statistic and certainly not collateral. This is the same for us all and if the military feel otherwise then feel free to commit ritual suicide and help the rest of us to a more peaceful world. If you think I sound angry then you would be right. Try watching someone die in front of you, it’s motivating.
We went to the other sites that were bombed around town. A primary school, a market and suburban streets, an apartment block area and not one military target amongst them. Disbelief is all that crosses my mind here and I want to get out and take some air. General Wesley Clarke was the Supreme NATO Commander then. I wonder if any pang of conscience disturbs him at night.
I can’t help but feel that when something like this happens in the west it’s a massive issue, outrage and act of terrorism but here the language is softened. If you lived in Nis and were bombed as a civilian target would you not feel that this was your local September 11?
We drive out of town and head south to the border areas. This is where the games begin. The borders were a mass of military activity on both sides in 1999 and 2000 and took a hammering as a result. The problem now is that these areas have never really been cleared. Just after the bombing the army walked through this area and did as much surface clearance and demolition of any dangerous objects as they could find. That’s well and good in the short term but it’s not a full clearance, as there are those bomblets that bashed into the ground or those that were hung up in trees. These are coming to light now and the repetitious story of shepherds and kids who walk these hills and find these interesting yellow canisters are becoming too frequent. The tale as to what happened has to be pieced together from the remains of their shattered bodies as rarely are there any survivors.
We pull off the main road and head up a dirt track to an area that Goran was surveying. The newly erected red “Danger” signs with the skull and cross bones had been smashed off their pickets and pieces of them littered the ground. Just when you get an area identified as dangerous and it takes the smallest step towards being at least identified as dangerous, some moron comes along and smashes it up. Humans! What a weird breed.
A site that has had a surface clearance has no visible evidence of actual bomblets but it does have all the associated pieces that should have been taken away if a full clearance had taken place. The spider cap and container packing are all tell tale signs of possible dangerous areas. The next danger factor is the forest. As far as we can gather the only cleared areas were open farm land so the forest is a really dangerous place. Add to this ten years of fallen leaves and nothing is very obvious. The future of these places now becomes bureaucratic as need versus effect and impact are all weighed against the miniscule budgets that are available for clearance. I know this frustrates the deminers and clearance agencies who just want to fix the problem and pass the land back fully cleared and safe. One suspect site follows another till we head back to Belgrade.