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Yugoslavia / Kosovo: Mines and unexploded bombs: songs and laughter to put safety first

11-05-2000 News Release 00/17

The timeless tale of Little Red Riding Hood, which has been used to warn generations of children that things are not always what they seem, has provided mine-awareness instructors in Kosovo with the perfect vehicle to warn against the silent menace of landmines.

A professional theatre company, specially commissioned by the ICRC, is currently touring primary schools in Kosovo with a cleverly-devised performance of the famous fable as a means of conveying a serious message to its young audience: in the fields and forests – irresistible playgrounds for naturally curious children – lurks the deadly danger of landmines and unexploded bombs.

Since refugees started returning to Kosovo last summer, almost 160 children have been killed or maimed by this silent menace, and as the spring days lengthen and people work and play more outside, the danger is mounting once again. This is especially so among children, whose attention is naturally attracted by the shiny, seemingly innocent objects lying in the ground and waiting to pounce on their victims.

The troupe's open-air performance, aimed at schoolchildren in the seven-to-14-year age group considered the most at risk, is the latest project in the ICRC's mine-awareness programme, an operation that has been under way in Kosovo for the past 10 months and has so far reached people in over 400 villages.

The ICRC is also chiefly responsible for gathering data on incidents. This information is passed on to the United Nations in order to make precise maps showing where the danger is greatest. And while the Red C ross is not involved in mine-clearing itself, it has made arrangements with a Swiss organization, which has three teams available in Kosovo, to conduct emergency clearance in urgent cases.

ICRC mine-awareness coordinator Johan Sohlberg points out that there is no easy solution regarding mines and unexploded ordnance. " This is a problem that the people here will have to live with for a long time " , he says. " What we are trying to do is instil a safety reflex in the residents so that they can learn to live as normally as possible in the danger zone. "