Mines Prompt NATO Assurance

SARAJEVO -- NATO's commander said Thursday the alliance was doing all it could to ensure the safety of its troops in Bosnia after three soldiers were killed and a dozen hurt in a string of explosions.

The casualties to the NATO-led force implementing the Dayton peace accords underlined the dangers to both military and civilians from unexploded munitions in post-war Bosnia.

Two Portuguese and an Italian were killed in an explosion late Wednesday at a former maternity hospital in Sarajevo being used as a barracks. They were the first NATO troops to die in Bosnia since the force was sent in last month.

"A Portuguese soldier attached to the Italian battalion brought a fragmentation bomb into a room. He found it not far from the base," said Italian Lieutenant Colonel Salvatore Giacomo.

A NATO spokesman said another six Italians and a Portuguese were wounded in the blast.

NATO Supreme Allied Commander George Joulwan said during a visit to Moscow that everything was being done to safeguard the Atlantic alliance's troops in Bosnia.

Three members of the French Foreign Legion were injured, one seriously, on Wednesday during an explosives instruction session near Sarajevo.

Four Danish soldiers were slightly hurt Tuesday when their Leopard tank struck a mine in northern Bosnia, while a British Warrior combat vehicle ran over an anti-tank mine in central Bosnia on Wednesday. The crew was not hurt.

Three youngsters in Sarajevo were injured when they stepped on mines near buildings recently abandoned by Serb forces. One lost a foot and the others parts of their feet.

"We wanted to see what is out there," Muamer Brdic, 17, said as he and a friend were being treated in hospital. "There was nobody to stop us, only flags that said 'Mines'."

Military analysts say millions of mines were strewn across Bosnia during the 3 1/2-year war and many were placed haphazardly without any maps. It could take 30 years to clear most of them, NATO officers say.

Navy Captain Joseph Mazzafro, an intelligence aide for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional committee that Bosnia had about 6,200 mine fields with an estimated 2 million mines.

Under the peace agreement signed in Paris last month, Bosnian government, Serb and Croat forces were supposed to clear or mark all mine fields by Jan. 19. Mazzafro said that due to poor weather only about 30 percent of the mines had been cleared so far and 25 percent marked.

"Mining is a form of vandalism in former Yugoslavia, a kind of pollution," Brigadier John Moore-Bick, chief engineer for NATO forces in Bosnia, told reporters in Sarajevo.

He described Bosnia's military engineers as "devilish scheming people" who had come up with new forms of "homemade, back-garden, back-garage" mines.

He appealed for half a million dollars to buy protective clothing and mine detectors for the Bosnian factions, saying there had been at least 39 mine casualties among NATO forces and Bosnians since clearance work began.

UN officials accused the Moslem-led Bosnian army of harassing refugees returning to the northwestern town of Velika Kladusa, using beatings and hand grenades to intimidate Moslems once loyal to rebel leader Fikret Abdic.

Bosnia's three warring parties are still holding 645 prisoners of war in breach of the Dayton agreement, the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug quoted the International Committee of the Red Cross as saying.

Under the agreement, all prisoners should have been freed last Friday.