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ICRC mine action in southern Serbia

03-02-2003

ICRC community-based mine/unexploded ordnance awareness programme

 

Background 
 

The 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo, the NATO bombing and the conflict between Albanian armed groups and the Yugoslav Joint Security Forces (YJSF) in 2000 and 2001 have left a number of communities situated in the area along the boundary line with Kosovo and in other parts of southern Serbia threatened by mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). The five-kilometre-wide strip of land known as the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ) was created along the Kosovo boundary as part of the Kumanovo agreement signed by the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and NATO in June 1999, which marked the end of the conflict. Part of the GSV was subsequently used by armed Albanian groups (Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac - UCPMB) as a base for their attacks on YJSF troops. In May 2001 an agreement was reached for a peaceful resolution of this conflict as well and now the former GSV is entirely controlled by the YJSF. However, other areas are also contaminated by mines and UXO.

 
The ICRC's response 
 

Immediately after hostilities broke out between the UCPMB and the YJSF in late 2000, the ICRC launched a programme that, in the emergency phase, provided mainly for the distribution of leaflets and posters in the contaminated areas. At the same time it sent some teams to assess the situation in the accessible areas. After the peaceful resolution of the conflict in May 2001, a new phase of the programme was introduced.

In order to get the Yugoslav Red Cross (YRC) involved in implementing the program me, the ICRC trained a number of YRC volunteers as mine-awareness instructors in Sopocani, near Novi Pazar, in July 2001. The participants, who came from the municipalities neighbouring Kosovo, were given the basic skills needed to spread knowledge about mines and UXO and teach safe behaviour to people living in dangerous areas. So far, however, only the instructors from Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja have been active, since for the others there was no specific need.

With the start of the school year 2002-2003, mine-awareness activities for children were stepped up, presentations were given and posters, leaflets, brochures and notebooks were distributed in primary schools. This was followed by a new round of performances of " Little Red Riding Hood " , a popular mine-awareness play for youngsters. In order to help communities cope with the problem of mines and UXO themselves, the ICRC and the YRC are holding monthly meetings with volunteers from both the Serb and the Albanian communities in Presevo and Bujanovac. These meetings, in which mine/UXO clearance, mine-awareness and assistance to mine victims are discussed, are also attended by the local authorities and by representatives of the army, the police, the gendarmerie and the civil defence forces. With the creation and training of YRC mine-awareness teams in affected municipalities and their greater involvement in regular mine-awareness activities, the ICRC and the YRC are now cooperating more closely on implementing mine-awareness projects.

    

 
Mine/UXO contamination 
 

According to the ICRC's field assessments, whose findings have been corroborated both by the government and by international teams, there is no large-scale mine/UXO contamination in southern Serbia. The relatively small number of accidents caused by mines and UXO leads to the same conclusion. The most highly contaminated areas are in the municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovac and Kursumlija, but Medvedja and other municipalities, some situated along the administrative border with Kosovo and Metohija, may also be affected. Unexploded cluster bomb sub-munitions are present at strike sites in rural areas of the municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovac and Kursumlija, and also in the town of Nis, for example. Many areas have not yet been marked.

 
Mine/UXO incidents 
 

 Types of incidents  

The majority of reported incidents were caused by anti-personnel landmines, followed by cluster bomb sub-munitions and other UXO. Two incidents, one of which involved no casualties, were caused by anti-tank landmines. Two other incidents, both of which occurred in buildings, seem to have been caused by some kind of a booby-trap.

 Victims of mine/UXO incidents in FRY/southern Serbia (1999-2002 )

 

 APM  

 ATM  

 CB  

 UXO  

 BP  

 YEAR  

 Killed  

 Injured  

 Killed  

 Injured  

 Killed  

 Injured  

 Killed  

 Injured  

 Killed  

 Injured  

 1999  

-

-

-

-

2

4

-

-

-

-

 2000  

-

8

3

6

-

1

-

-

1

2

 2001  

1

4

-

-

1

1

1

2

-

1

 2002  

-

1

-

-

-

-

-

2

-

1

 (APM - anti-personnel mine, ATM - anti-tank mine, CB - cluster bomb sub-munition, UXO - unexploded ordnance, BP - booby trap)  

 Mine/UXO accidents involving army and police personnel*  

 

 ANTI-TANK MINE  

 ANTI-PERSONNEL MINE  

 

 Killed  

 Injured  

 Killed  

 Injured  

1999

3

5

-

-

2000

4

21

-

-

2001

7

13

-

2

* Incidents in which army and police personnel were injured or killed are not included in the general statistics since the mines involved – anti-tank mines laid on roads used exclusively by military and police vehicles – were clearly intended for these vehicles and their crews. As the incidents occurred while army and police personnel were performing their duty, they cannot be included in an overall analysis of mine incidents. Army and police personnel act on orders received, and questions about how incidents occurred or how behaviour could be changed cannot be asked. However, by registering the places where incidents occur, the ICRC is obtaining valuable information about contaminated areas.

    

 Victims  

Since there is no large-scale mine/UXO contamination in southern Serbia and the number of victims is relatively small, it is difficult to carry out an overall analysis of mine/UXO incidents. Most incidents occurred while the victims were tending li vestock or collecting wood or food. In the majority of cases the victims were males between the ages of 18 and 45, as is the case in most countries contaminated by mines or UXO. Some of the incidents were due to negligent behaviour and to risks taken out of economic necessity. The victims had been forewarned, but they had carried out their planned activities nonetheless. Children were mainly victims of cluster bomb sub-munitions and other UXO. In most cases they were injured or killed while playing with explosive devices.

    

 Victims of mine/UXO incidents in FRY/southern Serbia (1999-2002)  

    

    

 Injured  

 Killed  

 Injured  

 Killed  

 

 Total  

 Male  

 Female  

 Male  

 Female  

 Children  

 Adults  

 Children  

 Adults  

 1999  

6

4

-

2

-

3

1

2

-

 2000  

21

14

3

2

2

5

12

2

2

 2001  

11

8

-

3

-

4

4

1

2

 2002  

3

3

-

-

-

2

1

-

-

 
Mine/UXO clearance 
 

So far, search and clearance activities have been carried out exclusively by police and army teams. In the beginning, such activities were mainly carried out in the wake of advancing YJSF troops repossessing the GSZ. Afterwards, they were extended to roads and their surrounding areas. Clearance work is continuing and the YJSF is updating the map showing the territory cleared so far. There are also mobile teams that respond to clearance requests from local communities, as the army is not planning to search the entire area.

The regular meetings which the ICRC and the YRC hold with volunteers from communities at risk, and which are also attended by the local authorities and representatives of the army, the polic e, the gendarmerie and the civil defence forces, have proved to be an excellent forum for the exchange of information between all concerned.

 
Mine-awareness activities 
 

 Training  

  • When the GSZ was dismantled, the ICRC held two mine-awareness workshops for teachers who later gave presentations in their schools with the assistance of an ICRC mine-awareness team from Kosovo. This made it possible to reach schoolchildren – the category of population most at risk – without delay.

  • As mentioned above, the ICRC held a two-day workshop to train YRC volunteers from municipalities situated along the administrative border with Kosovo as mine-awareness instructors. Nine instructors were trained in all, but only a few have been active so far.

  • In mid-November 2001, three three-day training courses were given to 50 community volunteers from Serb and Albanian villages in the municipalities of Presevo and Bujanovac, the aim being to give them basic information on the problems caused by mines and UXO and encourage them to start dealing with these problems themselves.

  • In September 2002, a two-day training workshop was held for eight members of YRC mine-awareness teams.

 Activities and projects with adults  

In the early stages of the programme, ad hoc presentations were given to the population by ICRC staff members posted in the area. As the programme expanded, and especially after training had been given to community volunteers, people began to take the initiative in asking the ICRC for help. A number of communities requested the ICRC to:

  • clear specific areas, dispose of explosive ordnance or search and check land thought to be mined;

  • provide orthopaedic assistance for mine victims and other disabled people;

  • give presentations on the mine danger in their areas and on rules of safe behaviour.

All these requests were taken into consideration and were or will be responded to by the ICRC, if necessary in cooperation with other agencies such as Handicap International as regards requests for orthopaedic assistance.

    

 Activities for children  

The ICRC had two amateur theatre companies, one Serb and the other Albanian, perform a mine-awareness play for schoolchildren based on the story of Little Red Riding Hood. The play was well received by the children and surveys showed that it had greatly raised their awareness about the danger of mines and UXO.

Number of performances:

Number of children reached:

Number of adults reached:

99

11,906

1,200

Specifically designed mine-awareness presentation were also given to children.

Number of presentations:

Number of children reached:

Number of adults reached:

53

3,100

120

The ICRC produced and distributed 10,000 copies each of two mine-awareness notebooks for schoolchildren, one in Serb and the other in Albanian.

 
Cooperation with other actors 
 

In the immediate aftermath of the conflict, the ICRC cooperated closely with MSF-Belgium, which was conducting " one-off " mine-awareness activities for schoolchildren at the time. As the school year was coming to an end, the two organizations agreed to divide their tasks and thus managed to cover the entire school population by means of presentations and workshops for teachers.

Cooperation with other actors was coordinated mainly through mine-awareness coordination meetings. One such meeting was held by MSF-Belgium and another by the ICRC. Thereafter, the Coordinating Body for Southern Serbia took over this role. During this period the ICRC was mainly in touch with civilian and military authorities, and with Handicap International regarding orthopaedic assistance to victims.

 
Assistance to victims 
 

Handicap International is the only organization that provides assistance for mine victims. It was agreed that the data collected by volunteers in their respective communities would be forwarded to this organization for further action. Owing to funding problems, however, not all the requests received could be accommodated. Community volunteers also asked the ICRC to assist the families of mine/UXO victims, but these requests were redirected to YRC branches. Joint ICRC/YRC teams have recently started visiting mine/UXO victims and their families and providing them with food and other assistance.