Canada's rejuvenated efforts to rid war-ravaged Kosovo of land mines have suffered a sharp blow after an experienced worker was seriously injured when a detonator exploded in his hand.
The mishap involving a mine-disposal expert occurred Aug. 25 in southern Kosovo near the Albanian border, said Peter Wright, president of the International Demining Alliance of Canada.
In late June, that Canadian group won a multimillion-dollar contract from Ottawa to assist in a multinational effort to dispose of thousands of unexploded bombs and land mines that litter Kosovo's towns and countryside in the aftermath of last year's war in the Balkans.
The injured South African deminer, who was working for the Canadian group, suffered burns and deep cuts to his left hand, which required him to be flown to his home country for plastic surgery.
The incident marred what government and company officials say has otherwise been a revitalized Canadian mine-clearing presence in Kosovo.
Maria Minna, the federal minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency, said Canada's bomb-disposal and mine-clearing effort was now going well after early start-up problems.
"The UN has said that our program is very professional and they are very pleased with it," Ms. Minna said in an interview yesterday.
Earlier this year, senior United Nations officials criticized Canada's effort to help dispose of bombs and mines in Kosovo as a "shambles."
UN officials charged that Canada's work in the estranged Serbian province was marked by unnecessary and costly delays, ill-prepared workers and accusations of bias and bitter disputes over the awarding of contracts.
But almost immediately after UN officials went public with their concerns, CIDA announced that it had awarded the bomb-disposal and demining contract to IDAC.
The injured IDAC employee, a team leader, was supervising 24 Albanian deminers while they were clearing land mines from a patch of land just outside the town of Prizren, in southern Kosovo, when the incident occurred.
The injured man, whom Mr. Wright would not identify, had just completed disarming a Serbian-manufactured PMA3 antipersonnel land mine when a small detonator in its fuse exploded. The man has full use of his injured hand, Mr. Wright said.