Muslim village can’t escape sounds of war; An Army demolition team explodes tons of confiscated arms near the small community.

The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)

June 21, 1999, Monday

Muslim village can’t escape sounds of war;
An Army demolition team explodes tons of confiscated arms near the small community.

Mark Petix, The Press-Enterprise

A SECTION; Pg. A05

GOJAKOVICI, Bosnia

There is no time for even a “dobor dan,” a “good day,” before Emina Causevic starts to cry.

Look, says the 50-year-old woman in the peasant dress and rubber slippers. Look at my house.

There are cracks in the foundation, she says through an interpreter. The windows don’t work right.

“When the explosions come,” she says, “my house feels like it is on the water.”

In the Muslim village of Gojakovici (go-yah-koh-VEE-chee), a sun-dappled hillside of plum and apple trees three miles north of Camp Demi, soldiers from the 301st Psychological Operations Command listen to the aftershocks of war.

Four times a day for more than a week, the village has shuddered and bounced while U.S. Army demolition experts destroy 40,000 pounds of explosives and arms confiscated from an army unit in the Muslim/Croat Federation. The weapons may have been meant for rebels in Kosovo.

This seizure is one measure of the dangers awaiting NATO troops and refugees in Kosovo. Kosovo is heavily mined, and the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army remains active and well-armed.

The federation unit caught with the ordnance was disbanded and demolition experts got quickly to work beginning with four, 500-pound detonations each day.

It was the largest seizure of contraband weapons and explosives since NATO troops entered Bosnia, enough ordnance to fill 30 military vans.

But for 30 families living 1,650 yards from the blast site, the detonations, however well-intentioned, are unwelcome echoes of a horror not yet forgotten.

“I understand you are here to help,” says Causevic, who shares a two-story cinder block home with another family. “You help us a lot.  But the fear, it is something else. It is the same as I saw in the war. ”

A spine-rattling BOOM lifts Causevic briefly off her feet. The blast is strong enough to press clothing against bodies and fill the air with the unmistakable stench of nitrate.

“See? ” she says. “See? ”

When the village first complained, the U.S. Army cut the size of each detonation from 500 to 250 pounds. It has been cutting the size of the blasts since, hoping to find an acceptable compromise.

This was a 30-pound detonation.

“We have lowered the explosive charge,” says Sgt. Jeff Stinchcomb of San Diego, “and we are here today to see if this has helped the situation. ”
It has not, she says.

“Can you tell the children the weapons were seized and are being destroyed to keep them safe? ” Stinchcomb asks.

Causevic stamps the wet ground, saying she is worried that the foundation of a new house her husband is building will collapse because of the explosions.

The U.S. Army has a dilemma.

Millions of mines still litter Bosnia, says Staff Sgt. Douglas Smith, an Oceanside native and team leader of the 756th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company at Camp Demi.

There are as many as 900 undiscovered mines per square mile in Bosnia, he says. When mines and other weapons are discovered, they must be destroyed.

But where?

The families here think it would be best to move demolition to another area, says Sgt. Mike Torres of Riverside. They would like it moved to a Serb area.

“They can’t do that, of course,” he says.

A dozen men and women file down the two main dirt roads of Gojakovici, asking someone, anyone, to come look at their houses. To see the damage.

A woman walks up to Torres and begins to sob.

“My son died in the war,” says 51-year-old Kadira Remic. “You remind me of him. ”

Torres smiles sadly.

“She comes here every day we are here, and there is always somebody who reminds her of her son,” Stinchcomb says. “We see it on the Serb side and the federation side. When they see a soldier, they start to cry. ”

Remic touches Torres’ face.

“Nobody can help her,” Stinchcomb says.

But the U.S. Army can do something for the village. The detonation site will be moved.

The Army also is prepared to pay about $ 580 for each building cracked inside and out. Broken windows are worth $ 25.

It is no small sum in this part of Bosnia, where the average monthly salary is about 300 deutsche marks, or about $ 174.

Not everyone is bothered by the blasting.

Ten-year-old Hamid Ibisevich believes Bosnia’s mines must be found and destroyed.

“There are a lot of minefields here and in the forest,” he says through an interpreter. “The children cannot go out and play. ”

He was 3 when Serb soldiers came to his village near Srebrenica (shray-breh-NEAT-zuh), pounding on doors and forcing everyone out.

He remembers the long walk to Gojakovici, where he has lived as a refugee since.

“It was hard,” he says.

He remembers that when he studies. He is studying hard, he says, so he can someday become a doctor.

“So I can save my people.”

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