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ICRC launches UXO/MINE awareness programme

07-09-2001 News Release

ICRC Skopje - 06.09.01 - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) this week launched its programme to alert the population to the danger of unexploded ordnance which, according to a recent expert assessment, is a significant threat to civilians living or planning to return to villages which were directly affected by the fighting between Macedonian security forces and the NLA.

According to the assessment, carried out recently by the ICRC's regional UXO/mine awareness co-ordinator,  the problem is not widespread but concentrated in areas where the heaviest fighting took place and where large amounts of unexploded ordnance (UXO) remain. Whilst no evidence has yet emerged of the existence of antipersonnel mines having been laid in the country, this cannot be entirely excluded.

Based on these indications, the ICRC decided to develop a programme to target and sensitise those communities - both resident and displaced populations from the directly affected areas - to the problem. This week, the first mobile UXO/mine awareness teams conducted awareness-raising sessions for civilians from Aracinovo,  marking the beginning of a series of such events in the coming days and weeks. The programme is complemented by leaflet/poster campaign aimed at different age groups, especially young children, who are often most at risk because of their natural curiosity.

Drawing upon the expertise gained through working in this field for nearly ten years in the Balkans, the ICRC in Macedonia mobilised UXO/mines awareness officers from ICRC Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo to train both ICRC and Red Cross of Macedonia (MRC) staff in how to develop and conduct a community-based appro ach. Volunteers from the MRC will play an important role in helping to distribute leaflets among the displaced population and in participating in awareness sessions. Meanwhile, ICRC and local Red Cross staff in Kosovo have also begun to distribute the leaflets to the refugee population there.

Said Annick Bouvier, the programme's co-ordinator: " Although the problem is thankfully restricted to small pockets of the country where the heaviest fighting took place, it is nevertheless a significant threat to those communities - especially for those who plan to return to their homes. We felt it was therefore important to begin as soon as possible to alert people to the potential threat, which can cause injury and even death long after a conflict has ended. "