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news 03 Mar 17

Depot Blast Highlights Serbia's Weak Arms Controls

Blast in Serbian army depot in Kragujevac, which killed four persons, demonstrates the continuing danger posed by stockpiles of obsolete ammunition.

Maja Zivanovic
BIRN
Belgrade

On-site investigation on the place of explosion I Photo: Ministry of Defence

The latest blast in Serbia in the military facility at Kragujevac, which killed four persons, raises further questions about Serbia's ability to control its ageing stocks of ammunition, experts say.

Military analyst Aleksandar Radic told BIRN that speculation about the exact causes of the incident in Kragujevac was premature but the human factor was probably to blame.

“No standards can prevent an accident in which someone does something because of negligence. Discipline is the key,” Radic said.

He said the Serbian Army, much like Serbian society generally, still struggled with issues of following procedures.

Four persons was killed and 25 were injured after an explosion at a military repair depot in the central town of Kragujevac on Tuesday.

The depot was used to dismantle old ammunition, a job that includes removing gunpowder, explosives and other substances from parts.

The Defence Ministry said on Wednesday that all those injured in the blast were now in a stable condition. During the night, the 74 Kragujevac army depot workers were relocated to a safe place in the depot.  

Defence Minister Zoran Djordjevic admitted that the danger of new explosions still exists.

Meanwhile, an on-site investigation has begun and an investigation into the causes and consequences of the accident will be led by the Deputy Prosecutor in Kragujevac.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday said the alliance remains committed to helping the countries of the Balkans, including Serbia, to safely store their weapon stocks and destroy dangerous surplus ammunition.

Place of the explosion I Photo: Ministry of Defence

In 2011, Serbia requested assistance from Western countries and NATO to further develop the capacity of the depot in Kragujevac, the Defence Ministry’s main demilitarisation facility.

Serbia initially requested for assistance with the disposal of 4,151 tonnes of surplus conventional ammunition.

Capacities in Kragujevac were upgraded with the help of NATO in October 2016, and the plan was to destroy around 2,000 tons of bullets, mortars, rockets and missiles in the next two years, following several other incidents which included explosions of surplus ammunitions.

The Kragujevac incident recalled an earlier one in the town of Paracin in 2006, when 3,500 tons of weapons exploded. Fortunately no one was seriously injured, although the blasts damaged 12 schools buildings in the town.

The series of eight explosions was blamed on "technical reasons [to do with] the storage of gunpowder”.

An explosion in the ammunition factory in the town of Uzice in 2009 killed seven people and left dozens injured.

In Belgrade in November, a routine inspection of the army depot showed that large numbers of guns and munitions had gone missing.

Five people were later arrested and Defence Minister Zoran Djordjevic ordered the extraordinary inspection of all warehouses with weapons and equipment.

Executive director of the Belgrade Center for Security Policy Predrag Petrovic told BIRN that research in 2011 showed that weapons in Paracin were not stored properly stored and in the case in Uzice, proper procedures weren’t respected.

Petrovic said that this showed Serbia's continuing problems in in dealing with munitions and weapons.

“One problem is that a large quantity of weapons and munition possessed by the former Yugoslav Army was moved from one place to another, hidden in the woods during the NATO bombing, then again relocated,” Petrovic said, adding that this caused greater instability in the gunpowder and added to the possibility of new blasts.

 

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