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ICRC mine action in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

01-11-2002

Seeking to keep communities safe from the unexploded debris of war through a community-based awareness programme

 Theatre performance for children - July 2002 .   Actors performed 34 theatre plays with an audience of over 1,600 beneficiaries in collective centres and villages most affected by the conflict.

                

 Mine awareness leaflet produced in Macedonian and Albanian.  

In April 2001, after fighting broke out in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia between Macedonian security forces and the National Liberation Army, the ICRC decided to assess the threat posed by mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) and to devise an appropriate strategy for preventing mine/UXO-related accidents. It was determined that the greatest threat was posed by large amounts of unexploded ordnance that lay scattered around towns and in villages directly affected by the fighting.

Drawing upon the expertise which the ICRC has gained in this field after working in the Balkans for more than five years, the Skopje delegation requested three specialists from the delegations in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia/Kosovo to teach ICRC local employees and Macedonian Red Cross volunteers how to carry out mine/UXO-awareness activities and deliver appropriate messages directly to the population conc erned.

Since people living in or planning to return to affected villages were most at risk, it was felt that a carefully targeted community-based approach was preferable to a blanket coverage which could generate unnecessary alarm among the population.

The UXO-awareness programme began in August 2001 and is being carried out in close coordination with other agencies.

The significant amount of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and, to a lesser extent, mines left behind in the wake of the conflict continues to pose a serious threat to civilians living in, or planning to return to, their villages. Fortunately, clearance operations are currently being carried out throughout the affected areas, thus progressively limiting the threat.

 The ICRC UXO/mine awareness programme in brief  

Through its UXO/mine awareness programme launched in August last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has targeted civilians most affected by the threat, that is the resident, refugee and displaced populations from villages in the former conflict areas. The programme was developed in four different phases, designed to be mutually complementary in order to optimise the impact on the population at risk. The first phase of the programme was initiated with the distribution of written information material raising awareness of the danger of UXOs and mines. In the framework of the second component of the programme, interactive presentations continue to be carried out for villagers from affected areas and for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in collective centres and host families. The third phase was launched in Spring 2002 with a media campaign consisting of television spots broadcast on local and regional channels in affected areas. The fourth phase of the programme, developed specifically for children, consists of a mobil e theatre travelling to collective centres and performing in schools in affected villages. 

The ICRC's programme is complementary to those conducted by the authorities and other organisations which focus on UXO/mine clearance and assistance to UXO/mine victims. Information on locations and incidents is systematically gathered by the ICRC and shared with the United Nations Mine Action Office (UNMAO). Meetings are also held regularly with the actors involved in other aspects of the issue, to try to ensure a holistic approach to the problem. The ICRC's programme is acknowledged by the authorities and the UN as fully covering the needs of UXO/mine awareness in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

 The Problem  

    

A wide range of ammunition was used during last year's conflict. Due to the reported use of old or low quality ammunition, it is estimated that the ratio of unexploded ordnance is higher than the average for other theatres of conflict.

Assessments conducted by ICRC experts have revealed that the biggest threat to the population lies in unexploded ordnance, both in terms of quantity and because their exact locations are largely unknown. Whilst there have been incidents and sightings of antitank mines, these present less of a threat to civilians because their locations are known and thus precautions can be taken to minimise incidents. Although there is no documented evidence of the widespread laying of antipersonnel mines, this still cannot be entirely excluded. The threat is confined to people living in, or about to return to, areas where the fighting took place, namely the regions of Tetovo and Kumanovo and North of Skopje.

In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the threat from UXOs and mines differs si gnificantly from that facing post-conflict communities in other parts of the Balkans, where antipersonnel land mines, unexploded ordnance and cluster bombs are all important problems. It was, therefore, important that the " message " and material developed in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia be UXO-oriented, reflecting the reality of the situation here.

 

  Mine awareness poster 
 

 The ICRC Response  

    

In order to avoid generating unnecessary alarm among the general population, the ICRC decided to develop a community-based approach targeting the populations directly affected by the threat, meaning the resident population who had decided to stay as well as the refugee and displaced populations who had left the conflict zones. In addition, villagers gradually returning to their homes in affected areas are again reminded of the danger.

The programme, which was launched at the end of August 2001, aims to convey a message which goes beyond simply raising awareness about the existence of the threat, but also to equip civilians with the knowledge that will enable them to adapt their behaviour and learn to live with the threat until the relevant clearing operations have been conducted.

Civilians, and especially children (who are often most at threat because of their natural curiosity), are warned of the danger of approaching or touching UXOs and encouraged to notify immediately the competent authorities, or in the case of children, to inform their parents or school teachers. The aim of this programme is not to teach technical data, but to change the behaviour of the population at risk.

The first phase of the ICRC UXO/mine awareness programme consists of the production and distribution of different sorts of written information material raising awareness on the danger of unexploded devices. All material was field-tested and designed in-country to be best adapted to the Macedonian context. In the early months of the programme, information material was distributed to the refugee population in Kosovo (through the ICRC in Kosovo) and the displaced population as they came to collect their monthly ICRC food assistance at the local branches of the Macedonian Red Cross (MRC). The material reached the remaining population living in affected areas through the ICRC mine awareness team or local contact persons. Regarding returnees, they receive information material as they gradually go back to their villages. Posters, pocket calendars, school timetables, leaflets containing general information and brochures designed especially for children (all produced in both Macedonian and Albanian languages) are also systematically distributed to the population at risk.

In the second phase , awareness is raised through interactive presentations explaining the danger of UXOs and how risks can be avoided. In order to establish a network of instruc tors able to conduct such presentations, the ICRC helped community officials to identify local instructors in all the directly affected v

illages. During this period, the ICRC UXO/mine awareness team gave presentations to the resident population in villages most at risk and to IDPs in collective centres. The identified local community representatives, as well as members of the Macedonian Red Cross, were trained by the ICRC. Since October 2001, they form a reliable network of UXO/mine awareness instructors (MAIs). As of 30 June 2002, over 600 presentations were conducted throughout the areas at risk by 20 local community MAIs, 9 MRC MAIs as well as the ICRC UXO/mine awareness team. Local community MAIs have repeatedly spread the message in their villages. The MRC instructors carried out awareness-raising sessions in their respective branches for displaced persons in host families and the resident population in Aracinovo and Tetovo.

In Spring 2002, the third phase was initiated with the support of the media in order to reach a wider audience. Two television spots, created to increase public awareness of the danger of UXOs, were launched on regional and local stations throughout the affected areas at a critical period of the year. Awareness was, indeed, especially crucial at a time when farmers were ploughing and planting in the fields and children playing outside. Furthermore, as displaced people gradually return to their villages, it is important to remind them of this potential threat, which could cause injury and even death long after the conflict has ended. The first spot was conceived for a general public and is broadcast on television and radio. The second spot consists of a 40-second cartoon based on a scenario conveying a very comprehensive message to young children.

The fourth phase comprises a theatre performance for children up to the age o f 12. The scenario underlines the importance not to touch UXOs and seeks to change the behaviour of children who encounter such devices. The main character of the play represents a symbol, the courageous dog from the Sar-Planina mountains. A mobile theatre set enables the actors to travel to collective centres and affected villages. There are two teams of three professional actors, one team performing in Macedonian language, the other in Albanian language. By 30 June 2002, a total of 34 plays had been performed in front of over 1,600 children. After each play, mine awareness information material for children was distributed in order to strengthen the messages conveyed during the performance. The theatre programme will continue until beginning November 2002.

     

 Mine awareness school calendar  

 How each target group was reached  

 Refugee population - Around 80,000 people left Macedonia for Kosovo during the conflict (source - UNHCR) - the vast majority fleeing fighting in the Tetovo and Kumanovo areas. In order to sensitise them to the danger before returning to their homes, around 20,000 leaflets were sent to ICRC in Kosovo and distributed to refugee families. It was important that they knew that the threat differs from that of Kosovo, where unexploded cluster bombs and mines were the main problem.

 Resident population - Thousands of people remained behind in their homes or have voluntarily returned since the end of the fighting. For those communities which rely on agriculture as their main source of income, the threat or actual existence of UXO/Mines has had a significant impact on the local economy. ICRC teams have visited all affected villages - conducting presentations in priority areas and training local MAIs who have also begun to spread the message in their respective communities.

 Displaced population - There were more than 70,000 internally displaced people inside Macedonia at the end of the conflict. All collective centres were visited MAIs, whilst those staying with host families received a leaflet when arriving at the Macedonian Red Cross to collect their monthly ICRC relief assistance. MRC in structors are also conducting presentations in their respective branches for displaced persons in host families.

 In the near future, the ICRC will continue to monitor and offer support to MAIs. Meanwhile, efforts will be stepped up again next Spring in time for planting season when the risk of injuries is traditionally higher.