Fifteen Years of Cluster Munitions Clearance in the Kopaonik National Park
The Kopaonik National Park, which is located near the heart of the Republic of Serbia, is the largest center for winter sports in the country and the wider region. The mountain is covered by snow from November until May, when ski enthusiasts from Serbia and abroad gather in the thousands to experience the adrenalin rush of skiing Kopaonik’s slopes. The park is equally popular in the summertime due to its plentiful sunshine, diverse plant and animal life, striking rivers and scenic hiking trails.
However, for many years, the national park and its visitors faced a direct threat posed by cluster munitions, scattered around this region since 1999. Because cluster bombs eject submunitions or explosive bomblets, which occasionally also fail to explode, the danger remained present over these large areas long after the armed conflicts concluded.
This hidden danger had several consequences. People were afraid to visit parts of Kopaonik and the ski resorts were unable to be reconstructed and improved, preventing further socio-economic development of the wider area. The cluster munitions also affected the animal population and polluted the soil where endemic plant species grew.
In order to clear Kopaonik of cluster munitions and other unexploded ordnance (UXO), ITF began implementing its first clearance project in 2005 with an initial donation of the United States of America. The work on this first task resulted in the clearance of 170,000 square meters of land, with deminers finding and destroying 22 cluster munitions and 1 UXO. Throughout the next fifteen years, nine more clearance projects were implemented. During this time, almost 2.4 million square meters of land were cleared, 117 cluster munitions, 154 UXO as well as 4 landmines were found and destroyed.
This was by no means an easy task – not only due to the threat of the cluster munitions. The terrain across Kopaonik presented many difficulties to demining teams. Several project locations were located in steep terrains with 10 % slope or more, while some areas reached as much as 40 % inclination. Because the mountain is covered by snow for many months in the year and temperatures can drop as low as –35 °C, the projects had to be timed perfectly to prevent long delays. During the warm months, however, the terrain was covered with low bushes, tall grass and underbrush, often providing additional hideout to the dangerous submunitions.
Despite the difficulties, all ten projects implemented by ITF were completed successfully – the last one concluded in 2020 at one of the highest parts of Kopaonik, the project location Pančić’s Peak 2. This area is located at the altitude of 1,900 meters, with the nearby mountain peak reaching over 2,000 meters above sea level. The completion of this important work enabled further improvement of winter sports infrastructure, capacities such as cableways and accommodation, thus allowing even more people to safely experience the many wonders of the mountain. Furthermore, the project once more provided unpolluted and ecological conditions for endemic flora’s growth and fauna’s full recovery.
ITF is immensely grateful for the steadfast host country and donor support throughout the fifteen years of cluster munitions clearance operations at Kopaonik. Of the ten projects, eight were supported by the United States of America, one by the Republic of Serbia and one jointly by co-founding of both. These amazing achievements demonstrate the excellent results in this extremely important area as well as the region, which can be achieved when national and international donors, organizations and individuals work together towards a common goal.