Collateral Damage: Serbian Arms Workers Pay Price of Systemic Safety Issues

Production pressure, lax safety and outdated equipment are costing lives in Serbia’s arms industry. Yet those in charge are rarely held responsible.

For residents of Cacak, a town in western Serbia, it was like a blast from the past – two explosions two weeks apart at the state-run Sloboda arms factory in June.

“The sound was worse than during the NATO bombing,” said an elderly woman, who asked not to be named, in the nearby village of Jezdina, recalling the moment the factory was hit by a NATO rocket during an 11-week air war against Serbia in 1999. “It was horrific.”

Authorities say they are investigating the cause of what the Serbian defence ministry has said were two unrelated explosions.

But while the NATO bombing triggered anger among local Serbs, last month’s two explosions have been the cause of consternation and questioning.

Such incidents have become a regular occurrence in Serbia’s arms industry, yet the investigations that follow are frequently wrapped in secrecy. Low-level workers might be fingered for blame, but those in charge are rarely held responsible.

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