US Envoy Inspects Blasted Arms Dump Near Sofia

Politics » DEFENSE | August 18, 2011, Thursday // 08:23
Bulgaria: US Envoy Inspects Blasted Arms Dump Near Sofia Pictured: the explosion of the ammunition storage facility in Chelopechene shocked the Bulgarian capital Sofia on July 3, 2008. Photo by BGNES

Bulgarian and US officials will visit on Thursday a disposal depot storing tonnes of obsolete munitions outside Sofia three years after it was rocked by a series of powerful explosions, shaking apartment blocks and panicking thousands.

The delegation, which includes Deputy Defence Minister Valentin Radev and US Ambassador to Bulgaria James Warlick, will attend a demonstration in  detecting and disposing of explosive materials. It is part of the "Hot Summer 2011" operation.

The US Department of State announced earlier this year it has assisted the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Bulgaria in safely destroying 500 surplus Man-Portable Air Defense Systems ( MANPADS ) missiles and 500 grip stocks ( launchers ).

Following the disposal operation, the US Department of State will provide additional funding to support clearance operations around the site of the catastrophic explosion of obsolete munitions.

US assistance and funding was provided by the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs ( PM/WRA ).

Around 7 am on July 3, 2008 the Bulgarian capital Sofia was shaken by powerful gunpowder explosions as a military storage facility located in the northeast Sofia Quarter of Chelopechene exploded. The explosions initially caused panic among the two-and-a-half million residents of the Bulgarian capital as the authorities including the Defense Ministry, the General Staff of the Army, and the Interior Ministry failed to react and explain the causes of the explosions for almost an hour after they started.

Fortunately, no persons were killed or injured in the Chelopechene explosions but the blasts did cause material damages in the northern suburbs of Sofia. The military storage site was reported to contain more than 20 tons of conventional explosives, which continued to go off for days after the initial blasts were over, and it took the authorities several weeks to secure the site.

The munitions storehouse explosions at Sofia's Chelopechene led the US State Department to include Bulgaria in the list of states with poorly maintained munitions depots. It said Bulgaria is the only NATO and EU member state with exploding munitions facilities.

According to a report by the US State Department, the Chelopechene incident, which panicked more than two million people in Sofia, together with a similar one in Uzbekistan on July 10, are "the latest in a series of incidents spanning many years and among the most recent manifestations of an international problem that has worsened since the end of the Cold War - government arms depots filled with ageing, unstable, poorly maintained, improperly stored, and weakly guarded munitions."

The US State Department concludes that such high-risk military storage facilities could cause more casualties every year that landmines and other explosive remnants of wars.

The report lists all similar incidents with munitions depots since 1995. Bulgaria is the only EU and NATO member on the list together two dozens of nations, mostly Third World countries, and former Soviet states.

These include: Albania, the Ukraine, Colombia, Uzbekistan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Serbia, Afghanistan, Russia, Ecuador, Peru, Mozambique, Thailand, Nigeria, India, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Guinea, Brazil, Yemen, Iraq.

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Tags: James Warlick, US, ambassador, ammunition, ammunitions, Chelopechene, MANPADS, Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, Defense Ministry, Department of State, US state department, Bulgaria, Bulgarian
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