Black smoke and the smell of burning truck tires fill the air. Men moan on the ground as shots are fired in the distance, beyond the pine trees and fields.
Suddenly, a white U.N. truck speeds into the parking lot and soldiers in light-blue helmets jump out to treat wounds and douse the flames. Momentarily puzzled by a gang of reporters and photographers milling about, the soldiers go to work with their medical bags and fire extinguishers.The scene could be from any war zone. But it took place this week 12 miles south of Stockholm, where recruits are taking a crash course at the Swedish Defense Department's U.N. School.
Sweden is sending 150 troops, most of them civilian volunteers, to join the United Nations peacekeeping effort in Yugoslavia, where ethnic clashes have continued to flare up despite a peace agreement.
The first 20 Swedish troops left Wednesday, and the rest are going around March 24. They will be part of a 14,000-strong peacekeeping force.
Almost all of the Swedish peacekeepers, except officers, are civilian volunteers who have already served in the military. The majority of the Swedish peacekeepers have volunteered for previous U.N. missions.
Sweden has sent 50,000 volunteers to U.N. peacekeeping missions, about 10 percent of all U.N. soldiers, comparable only to Finland and Canada. The Defense Force says it can give a civilian volunteer an adequate refresher course at the U.N. School in about two weeks.
The parking lot exercise was set up to look as if civilians had been injured in a grenade attack. The soldiers had to extinguish two truck fires, put out flames burning two dummies, practice mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a third, and tend fake wounds on five people playing victims.
Raimo Leinonen, a 32-year-old janitor, said he and his fellow soldiers felt prepared for the unexpected. He has served four times with the Swedish U.N. troops in Lebanon. "I feel like I'm doing something useful for the peace process," he said.