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Kosovo’s All Women Demining Squad

She is just 21, a civilian, and she spends eight hours a day kneeling on the now freezing ground in Kosovo clearing mines so that children will be safe. Her name is Mimosa Vilesi and she is part of the world's first all-women demining squad. John Howard reports.

As you contemplate thoughts of happy family holidays in this season of peace and good will, spare a thought for a group of Kosovar civilian women who have stepped forward to tackle the dangerous job of clearing the post-war western town of Pec of lethal landmines.

" It's a very dangerous job but I wanted to help the children. I know of too many children who stepped on mines," said Mimosa who joined the demining project two months ago.

Her squad is working on a minefield by a school used as a military base by Serbian soldiers. Schoolchildren run along the dirt lanes next to hundreds of metres of yellow tape bearing the words "Mines."

With her friend and colleague, 23-year-old Alma Medjedovic, who worked in a video club before NATO's March-June air war to drive Serbian forces out of Kosovo, Mimosa constantly has bleeding knees and elbows as she slowly crawls along the frozen ground gently prodding the soil for mines with a metal rod.

Of the 130 deminers, half are women including Mimosa's exclusively female squad of 34 women.

" When you move one mine, you save one life, one arm, one leg," said Delfina Lokoj a former law student thrown out of university when Belgrade cracked down on Kosovo's ethnic Albanians after 1989.

So far, the deminers have had no accidents though danger is routine. Just last week another farmer was killed when he drove his tractor over an anti-tank mine by a road regularly used by the demining teams.

"The worst experience I had was on my second day," Mimosa said. "A cow stepped on a mine just 25 metres from where I was working. I thought it was a colleague."

Despite the dangers, few if any of the deminers plan to return to their old jobs. Most of their workplaces have been destroyed anyway and this is nothing to go to.

When their work is over in Kosovo, probably in four years, most of them want to go to other hotspots such as Mozambique, Angola and Chechnya.

I hope, in this holiday time of peace and good will, that all of us can find a little place in our hearts and our thoughts for these young and extraordinarily brave people.


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