Voru residents live in fear of explosion

  • 2000-09-21
TALLINN (BNS) - A military ammunition depot in Voru, where anti-tank mines are kept, has residents and soldiers alike living in fear of an explosion, but the defense forces have no safe depots to keep their explosives.

The depot lies on the outskirts of the southeastern city of Voru, with some 16,000 inhabitants, on the perimeter line of the Kuperjanov Infantry Battalion and within 200-300 meters of a gas station and barracks. There the military stores ammunition, including anti-tank mines, each of which contains nearly 6 kilograms of TNT, the daily Postimees reported.

"Yes, it is dangerous," battalion commander Captain Aivar Voronov admitted. "I would naturally sleep more peacefully if some of the things kept in the depot were stored somewhere else, but we do not have such a place now."

But the municipal authorities' worries concerning a potential disaster in the depot are stronger than those of the military. When a fireworks depot blew up in Enschede in the Netherlands this spring, killing 60 and injuring 200 people, municipal leaders opened talks with officers of the Kuperjanov Battalion.

Mayor Tonu Jogi said anyone could make an error, including the military, and an ammunition depot error could lead to disaster.

Voru's leaders have asked the Defense Ministry to install proper electric wiring in the territory of a now-abandoned Soviet military unit, furnish it with an alarm system, build a guard house and set up an ammunition depot in its large hangars.

According to next year's budget bill, the Defense Ministry will receive more than 119 million kroons ($6.6 million) for the reconstruction and refurbishment of premises.

Acting defense forces commander Lt. Col. Aarne Ermus has promised that the risk will be lowered next year and the most dangerous ammunition, including anti-tank mines, will be taken away from the depot.

Defense Ministry public relations director Madis Mikko also admits the ammunition depot poses a threat to Voru.

"We admit there are problems with it," said Mikko, adding that the Voru leaders' plan to transfer the anti-tank mines and ammunition to a former Soviet military unit could be feasible. "We'll consult with the general staff and find money for the investment."

Several Estonian politicians have recently expressed the opinion that it is difficult for the military to ensure sensible spending of the defense budget, which will grow by nearly 20 percent to 1.8 percent of the expected gross domestic product in next year's state budget bill.