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Albania: Dealing with the legacy of mines

05-07-2001 News Release 01/26



Kukec. Young girls receiving a game from ICRC, based on prevention rules for mine awareness. ICRC/R.Sidler.



The french National Marc Farinou supervisor of the Swiss Federation for Mine Action working in Albania, close to Kosovo border. ICRC/R.Sidler.


On Albania's north-eastern border, the local population is suffering in the aftermath of the war in neighbouring Kosovo. During the conflict, land on either side of the border was littered with thousands of anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance. Today, two years after the end of the war, the chief victims of these lethal devices are children who pick them up and play with them out of curiosity. To warn children of the dangers of straying into mine-infested areas, a new prevention programme using live theatre and games has been launched jointly by the ICRC and the Albanian Red Cross. A professional theatre group travels from village to village presenting the fable of innocent Mr Bear who is tempted into a minefield by wily Mr Fox on the promise of finding a good spot to go fishing.

A new mine-clearance programme is also under way in the region. The removal of mines requires both a high degree of expertise and sophisticated technical equipment, and is therefore extremely costly. Millions of dollars have been poured into Kosovo, where mine clearance has already been nearly completed. In neighbouring Albania, however, there has been little or no funding available for this purpose. Thanks to a new initiative taken by the ICRC in conjunction with the Albanian Red Cross, clearance work on the Albanian side of the border is finally getting under way. A team of 10 mine-clearance experts from Australia, France, New Zealand and Switzerland has been assembled by the Swiss Federation for Mine Clearance. With locally recruited trainees, this team has begun the massive task of clearing the border area. The work is painstakingly slow since there are no maps showing where mines were laid.

Since May 1999, there have been at least 140 reported injuries and over 20 deaths caused by mines in north-eastern Albania. The true figures could be much higher as many incidents in isolated villages go unreported. To help mine victims, a training centre has been established in Kukes by the Albanian Red Cross with support from the ICRC.   The centre teaches skills such as shoemaking and tailoring, which give those who have lost limbs a new chance to earn a living and rejoin the community.