Anti-personnel mines continue to have an impact on post-conflict reconstruction and economic recovery in Croatia. Most victims are killed or injured while working in the fields, collecting firewood or tending to their livestock. High risk groups include returnees, farmers, fishermen and children. The exact number of victims of mines in Croatia is hard to establish but most sources say that at least 500 people have been killed or injured since the end of the war in 1995.
According to the Croatian Mine Action Centre, between 1998 and 2005 214 million Euros have been spent on mine action programmes and 181 square kilometres have been cleared. The total funding required until 2009 is 442 million Euros. Croatia plans to be a mine-free country by 2010. The Croatian Red Cross is the main institution involved in mine risk education in the country.
In December 2005 Croatia will host the sixth meeting of the States party to the Ottawa Treaty. The ICRC will participate in the meeting as an observer.
" We were walking in the forest when it happened. We didn't notice any warning sign. "
Slavko Liovic, 25, from Hrvace, a small town in southern Croatia lost his right leg in a landmine explosion in April this year. His friend died in the same incident. " I was a driver before " , explains Mr Liovic. " Now I stay at home, waiting for a prosthesis. "
The head of the local Red Cross branch in the town of Sinj, Ante Omrcen, says that ten years after the end of conflict mines continue to be one of the most serious problems in this region.
" Many houses have been abandoned and many people who left during the war still haven't returned, partly because the land is full of mines. Nobody wants their children to play in these dangerous places " .
So far 10,000 local people have attended mine risk education events at Mr Omrcen's branch.
The Croatian Mine Action Centre, a government body, estimates that there are 250,000 mines still in the ground. An estimated area of nearly 1200 square kilome tres with a population of 1.1 million is contaminated by mines and other explosive remnants of war.
Near Sinj, about 30 kilometres north of Split, lies the small town of Hrvace which was badly affected by the war in the early nineties. The frontline cut the town in half and landmines were frequently used extending over an area of 13.5 square kilometres. Since the end of the conflict, 17 people have been killed and a further 16 injured in mine explosions.
The Croatian Red Cross recently opened another of its safe playgrounds in Hrvace to be used by 70 children attending kindergarten.
" The aim of the programme'playgrounds without mines'is to prevent death and injury in mine contaminated areas by providing safe locations to play and secure places for families to spend their free time " , says Dr. Vijorka Roseg who is in charge of the mine risk education programme at the Croatian Red Cross headquarters in Zagreb.
The new site in Hrvace is the 38th safe playground built by the Croatian Red Cross since 2001, usually in cooperation with local authorities, business partners, and the ICRC. The organisation plans to build three more safe playgrounds by the end of the year.
" It will take a very long time to clear all the mines " , says Ante Prolic, a local doctor and Red Cross volunteer. " Until then everyone must learn to live safely with this risk. "