Old ammo kills Latvian youth, injures another

  • 2000-07-20
  • Elina Cerpa
RIGA - A July 12 explosion occurred in the former Soviet army base in Cekule, killing one. Authorities say youths were tampering with explosives left behind when the army pulled out.

The grounds of the former military base in Cekule are not locked and accidents involving unexploded ammunition happen every year. People picking berries and mushrooms in the wood or adventurous teenagers find their way into the former ammunition storage facility.

The Interior Ministry public relations department reported that a 21-year-old identified only as Dmitry died in the explosion and a 15-year-old named Yevgeny was hospitalized with serious injuries, including shell fragments in his upper body, a broken arm and burns on his legs. Interior Ministry officials would not release the victims' surnames.

"Yevgeny's condition is stable," said a doctor at Riga Hospital No. 1. "The boy could still be at the hospital for one month, but it's possible that there could be some marks on his health in the future."

It's still not clear to authorities exactly what the boys did on the military base. Guntars Krievins, deputy director of the Stopini district where the base is located, said the survivor told police that they were picking mushrooms.

"The boys had been playing imprudently with USSR army charges and that's what caused the explosion," said Krievins.

The Baltic News Service reported that after the Soviet troops left Latvia in 1994 the Cekule military base was taken over by the Latvian army. The Soviet army had removed all ammunition but left shells with expired service life lying on the ground without any protective cover.

In World War II, the explosives armory was destroyed by red partisans, but remaining ammunition has lain buried a thick layer of sand. In the former military base at Cekule, in one cubic meter were found 10-15 different kind of charges.

In 1996 it was decided that the ammunition warehouse in Cekule should be moved to another location and the Latvian army began collecting and sorting scattered ammunition, putting it into containers and housing it under a roof. It cost more than 1 million lats ($1.7 million) to clean up the area.

The Defense Ministry is responsible for resolving the problem with Cekule military ammunition, but has not begun cleaning it up because of a lack of funds, according to police.