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The fifth anniversary of adopting the Convention of Global Ban of Antipersonnel Mines (including everything from the use and storage to production and trade) has passed in Serbia and Montenegro totally unnoticed. This single fact indicates the attitude which this political community has to the Convention adopted at the International conference in Ottawa on December 3-4th 1997. In the same year, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and its (first) coordinator Mrs Jody Williams received Nobel Peace Prize! By this, the better part of mankind: first, confirmed the strength of civil initiative and civil society in the best manner; second, expressed its attitude to peace and humanistic movements; and third, defined the clear strategic direction of the planetary struggle for total ban of these extremely inhuman weapons.
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was not among 122 countries whose representatives signed this document, which enriched the humanitarian law a great deal. Why didn’t Yugoslavia decide to eliminate AP mines from its arsenal at that moment, the mines, which International Committee of the Red Cross branded as one of the biggest evils of the modern world? The answer is simple and complex, at the same time. And this is only an effort to find the basic parts of this answer, in the following triangle: local public - the Army of Yugoslavia General Staff - top political authorities in Belgrade.
The first investigation taken by the activists of the Yugoslav Campaign to Ban Antipersonnel Mines showed that the citizens in Serbia and Montenegro, specially those in the lower parts of social strata, have no basic knowledge about these so banal and, at the same time, so vicious weapons - especially dangerous for children and other civilians, because they wait hidden, until found, removed and destroyed. It seemed almost unbelievable that so called "an ordinary citizen" showed no interest in these mines (he believes they are "under military authority") and almost ignored the danger these mines bring. Having in mind this state of "collective mind", this apathy, it was very difficult to provoke any sensitivity and to create a broad civil front to make continuos pressure on top military and political authorities in order to join to the Ottawa Convention.
The same style and rhythm was characteristic for media also: state-owned media followed the direction of the regime while so called "independent media" did not find AP mines to be attractive enough as a subject. Therefore, the Campaign activists had no media support. The apathy and the conspiracy of silence (and of ignorance) could be explained by at least two reasons. The first is the global social poverty and lack of any perspective during the regime of Slobodan Milošević: who could think about some AP mines when the crucial question for the majority of the population was how to survive (literally!) Second, during the war dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, there were no battlefields on the territory of Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo excluded. This means that there was no war dictate for placing minefields on this territory, except that the border part to Bosnia and Croatia was (and somewhere it still is) filled by AP mines. Therefore, the citizens in Serbia and Montenegro had no fatal "encounter" with AP mines until the theatre of war was open in Kosovo and NATO campaign started.
Still, the mystery remain - how it happened that so called "weekend warriors" did not bring the knowledge about the evil "character" of these weapons, nor did the other members of paramilitary formations, many of which stayed forever at the minefields all over theatres in Bosnia and Croatia, while other victims were handicapped to different level. The investigators in the Campaign discovered that PMA - 3, AP mine that used to be the pride of Yugoslav military industry, popularly known as "patty", was most often harmful for the legs of these unfortunates. The investigation also shows that these warriors had more incidents - first of all due to their ignorance and lack of discipline, connected to alcohol abuse - in their own, improvised minefields than in those placed by the enemy. It can be concluded that neither Milošević nor post-Milošević regime were interested to spread the complete truth about these victims of the AP mines. The reason is that this could be the clue for other military secrets, which are still marked as "top secrets". That is probably why nobody can reach the precise data about the victims of AP mines in this category. It is also almost impossible to find out at least approximate data about civilian victims of these weapons among Serbian and Montenegrin citizens, about their medical treatment and about their fate, in general.
It seems that our public, media before all others, understood the issue of AP mines and their consequences in totally different way after NATO had bombed the chosen targets in the FR Yugoslavia. After this intervention, as it is known, thousands of cluster bombs and other not exploded weapons which, concerning the risk for civilians, have all the characteristics of AP mines. If we add to this other lethal devices which remained from the past, numerous explosive devices made in homes which are still used (although less often) by the Albanian extremists in South Serbia - we are getting a picture of the mine contamination in Serbia and Montenegro. Certainly, the consequences can be seen in lost human lives, in this case more among the members of the Army of Yugoslavia and Serbian police than among civilians. Despite everything, the public attitude to Yugoslavia’s joining the Ottawa Convention has not been radically changed.
The AY General Staff was and it still is the strongest point in keeping AP mines in the arsenal of the FR Yugoslavia. Local military experts put their firm attitude in the first line, keeping it dominant in policy and practice of the defence in Serbia and Montenegro: AP mines are still unchangeable defence weapons in small countries, Yugoslav certainly included. Local military professionals have additional critical remarks: the international humanitarian movement did not show enough persistence and energy to start such a broad campaign to ban cluster bombs, which brings other doubts; the pressure is not strong enough upon the largest manufacturers of AP mines, such as the USA, Russia and China which also did not join the Convention; beside all, joining the Convention would be very expensive for Yugoslavia because the process of destroying huge quantities of stored mines is very expensive, etc. All these remarks ask for a comment, but this text was not meant to be a debate. Let us mention that colonels and generals oversaw a few important things. First, all neighbouring countries joined the Ottawa Convention, none of them being a giant, in economy or military terms. Second, there are no few military experts in the world who think that AP mines are "old-fashioned" and that their combat value in conventional armed conflicts between countries is almost negligible. And third, some weapon can be withdrawn for strong humanitarian reasons, no matter how useful it is.
Anyway, we should say that the General Staff did something to cooperate with the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, during post-Milošević period. This Committee has been coordinating activities of the Yugoslav Campaign to Ban AP mines, which has been one of the projects of this non-governmental organisation in Belgrade. So, for example, the AY experts for mines took part in two round tables about banning the mines and the Ottawwa Convention, organised by the Helsinki Committee. Anything similar to this would have been unimaginable during Milošević regime. So, we could think of it as of some progress, although colonels and generals still have their firm, already described opinion about the role of AP mines in Yugoslav defence system. This opinion has been at a doctrinal level for a long time. This thesis has been supported by combat actions of the AY units against UČK formations in 1999 and as a paradigm serves the struggle near the watchtower "Košare" at the border between Yugoslavia and Albania, when the UČK offence melted in the minefields at our side. That’s why our military experts are persistently searching for some "replacement" for AP mines, which means for some alternate weapons. When they have been found, generals are going to give green light to politicians - so that they can bring to a decision to eliminate AP mines from the arsenal of the AY! (Despite everything, in this logic we can easily recognise some soldiers’ mistakes, but also some remnants of the past!) They owe at least one answer: what would be the meaning of eliminating one and introducing the other, similar weapon to the arsenal!?
While Slobodan Milošević was a global master of the FR Yugoslavia, the political top authorities did not find it convenient to open any, let alone a broad social discussion about AP mines. Military top did not find this issue worth its attention. Therefore, everything in the professional sphere was left to generals, whilst the top took strict care to dance to "supreme commander’s tune". Defence Ministry did not play any important role because it used to be just a service of the General Staff. Those must be the reasons why nobody from these institutions never entered the public scene with clear explanations of some mysteries which intrigued at least a thin layer of democratic public: why Yugoslavia resisted (and still resists) the Ottawa Convention so persistently (by March 1st, 1999 when it was enacted, 141 countries signed it while 117 countries also ratified the document); how many AP mines there are at the AY stocks. Of course, if the answers wouldn’t be considered military secrets! Therefore, it is not strange that all doors of civil and military authorities at which the Campaign activists knocked remained closed. So it would be an illusion to expect these authorities to make any step in order to bring Yugoslavia nearer to the Convention.
During the post-Milošević period, things are only slightly better. The most of good will to support the Campaign and to have the FR Yugoslavia finally join the Convention was shown by Yugoslav Foreign Ministry. It came as a result of this Ministry engagement, in a great deal, that Yugoslav government decided on April 20th 2001 that Yugoslavia will join the Convention. The only thing, which has to be done, is to have Yugoslav Parliament go through ratification procedure! Just that! But this action of Yugoslav Parliament is still being waited for. Nobody knows - how long, while Serbia and Montenegro pretend to hurry to Euro-Atlantic integrations.