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Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Alerting people to lurking death

27-09-2001 News Release 01/38

The ICRC is launching a programme to make Macedonians aware of the danger of unexploded ordnance (UXO) which, according to a recent assessment, poses a significant threat to civilians living in, or planning to return to, villages directly affected by recent fighting between Macedonian security forces and the National Liberation Army.

According to the assessment, carried out by the ICRC's regional UXO/mine-awareness coordinator, the problem is not widespread but concentrated instead in areas where the heaviest fighting took place and where large amounts of ordnance remain. While no evidence has yet emerged that anti-personnel mines have been laid in the country, this cannot be entirely ruled out.

The ICRC therefore decided to raise awareness among both those who stayed and those who fled. Staff began by going to talk to civilians from Aracinovo. The programme is supplemented by a leaflet/poster campaign aimed at various age groups but especially young children, who are often most at risk because of their natural curiosity.

Drawing on expertise gained from nearly ten years of work in the Balkans, the ICRC called on UXO/mine-awareness officers from ICRC Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo to train staff of both the ICRC and Macedonian Red Cross in a community-based approach. Volunteers from the Macedonian Red Cross will play an important role in distributing leaflets among the displaced population and in helping with the awareness sessions themselves. Meanwhile, ICRC and local Red Cross staff in Kosovo have also begun to distribute leaflets to the refugee population there.

Annick Bouvier, the programme's coordinator, says that though the problem is restricted to small pockets of the country where the heaviest fighting took place, it nevertheless poses a significant threat, especially to people planning to return to their abandoned homes. “We felt it was important to act as soon as possible to alert people. These devices can cause injury and death long after a conflict has ended."