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On Mine Awareness Day, communities urged to avoid, not touch and report any unknown objects

South Sudan
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A bang is heard, and two children who have been playing with objects they have found drop to the ground, remaining motionless. The audience gasps, as an eerie silence follows. Between loud sobs, a wailing relative is heard asking about the noise as she calls for urgent help.

“Come! Come and help me! My brother has died in the bush!”

A small crowd forms and the two children’s lifeless bodies are carried away. The skit ends with a word of caution from the local authority:

“If you see any signs of landmines, stop, don’t touch; report for safe grounds, safe homes for all.”

The play – a collaboration of various South Sudanese primary school children to mark the International Mine Awareness Day – emphasises what mostly happens in real life, in conflict-ridden countries like South Sudan, where mines and unexploded ordnance have been left lying around, and are easily first spotted by children. And just like in the skit, they get injured and sometimes killed, while others lose their limbs, leaving families in deep grief.

“The importance of this day actually, is to tell us, young children not to go to the bush and pick up metallic objects, which could be dangerous, as it could explode and lead to death,” says Joseph Lor, a student from Munuki Primary School in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

With the message clear, another set of children sing of their daily grief.

“Crying everyday … our government where are you…. we are suffering, oh save the lives of the children,” sing the children somberly.

The South Sudanese government is aware of the magnitude of the problems caused by landmines.

“International Mine Awareness Day (IMAD) offers an opportunity to highlight a threat that is affecting the lives of children of the Republic of South Sudan on a daily basis,” acknowledged Vice President Taban Deng Gai during the ceremony, saying he hoped that the process of eradicating landmines and other unexploded weapons “will not stall.”

“Landmines and unexploded ordnance are still being discovered in residential areas and farming areas all over the country,” he said. “The ordnance is mainly from the leftover war of independence”, he added, saying that the theme for this year’s Mine Awareness Day, “Safe Ground, Safe Homes for All, was very much in line with the vision of peace and prosperity for all the citizens within the implementation of the peace agreement signed in Addis Ababa in September 2018.

The head of the UN Mine Action Service praised hundreds of South Sudanese who painstakingly work in various communities, clearing mines.

“I want to thank the organisations, and all the 900 South Sudanese who are not here today because they are out there clearing mines, educating people on the dangers, and making this country safe,” said Richard Boulter, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) Programme Manager.

“It is those people, more than 900 South Sudanese working day in day out, that we are here to honour and to thank,” he went on, saying that landmines “continue to kill and maim but clearing them is achievable.”

“We simply need to keep doing what we are doing,” he added.

UNMAS has to date destroyed more than a million explosive devices since it started its operations in Sudan and now South Sudan, allowing for safe water points, schools and farmlands.

“It is impossible to know how many lives have been saved, but it is thousands, and the work that UNMAS does here is incredibly important,” said David Shearer, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), during the ceremony.

“The danger of landmines is still there, until we fight it all”, said Jurkuch Barach Jurkuch an official from the National Mine Action Authority, which works with UNMAS towards eradicating mines in the country. “Avoid, do not touch and report any unknown objects,” he urged.