Forgotten Scars of War: Clearing Mines and UXO … One

Camelia Nathaniel, in Daily news, 14 Marhc 2018 where  the title runs “Mine free by 2020: Sri Lanka heading towards becoming a landmine free country: Lanka heading towards becoming a landmine free country:”


Prince Mired Al- Hussein praises SL’s efforts

Recently, The Special Envoy on the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention Prince Mired Ra’ad Zeid Al- Hussein arrived in Sri Lanka on a three day visit from March 4 – 7 and visited the remaining mine clearance sites in Muhamalai. The Special Envoy appreciating Sri Lanka’s commitment to clearing mine infested areas said he was very impressed by what he saw during his tour to Sri Lanka in terms of the measures and effort taken to clear the country of mines.

“I was very impressed with my meeting with the President and the Minister of Rehabilitation and other officials. They have such a great sense of ownership regarding the land mine issue and the political will is extremely evident and the Sri Lankan government is very serious in carrying out the mine clearance activities,” the Prince said congratulating Sri Lanka on the work carried out so far to rid the country of landmines and other explosives remnants left behind by the 30 years of war.

“I am sure if you carry on with this fantastic approach, Sri Lanka will be very successful on the land mine issue, so bravo, bravo to everybody for doing such a great job,” Prince Mired Ra’ad said.

Mine clearance progress

By the end of the humanitarian operation, Sri Lanka was tasked with the challenge of clearing all affected areas of the country of landmines. According to the initial survey it was identified that approximately 2,064 square km was contaminated with mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). However, the government took the initiative to implement a programme to rid the country of mines and in accordance, the National Mine Action Programme was initiated in 2002. The programme functioned according to the National Mine Action Standards (SLNMAS) which was formulated based on the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS).

Initially it was identified that approximately 2,064 sq. km was contaminated with mines and explosives remnants of war. Around 640 villages were affected by mines. However, the government commenced its mine clearance activities in 2002.

So far, all agencies involved in humanitarian demining have cleared 1,233.368 sq. km by the end of last December. Currently only around 27 sq. km is left to be cleared, which the government hopes to accomplish by 2020.

The Sri Lanka Army Humanitarian De-Mining Unit (SLA-HDU), Devlon Association for Social Harmony (DASH), Skavita Humanitarian Assistance and Relief Project (SHARP), Mine Advisory Group (MAG) and the Hazardous Area Life Support Organization (HALO Trust) demining agencies are currently engaged in the mine action process in the country. All agencies involved in demining have so far have cleared 1,233.368 sq km as of December 31, 2017 while 735,444 Anti personnel mines, 2,073 Anti tank mines and 556,385 explosive remnants of war have thus far been recovered.

Mine detection dogs

Meanwhile, the Marshall Legacy Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping mine-affected countries, has been assisting the Sri Lanka Army Humanitarian Demining Unit in its humanitarian effort to clear landmines and explosive devices from affected regions of the country.

To date, MLI has donated 30 highly trained Mine Detection Dogs to the Sri Lanka Army’s Humanitarian Demining Unit. Most of the dogs have been sponsored by generous Americans as well as global citizens, including private foundations, families and schoolchildren; several have been sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, which has also provided crucial funding support to enable MLI to train the dogs and their handlers.

According to MLI selection criteria, SLA-HDU Mine detection Dog teams won the best MDD award three times in 2012, 2016 and 2017. For their years of excellent service and the strong bond between them, MDD Yankee and her handler Lance Corporal T. K. D. Rajapaksha of the Sri Lanka Army Engineers Humanitarian Demining Unit were presented the 2017 Dog Team of the Year award by MLI.

MDD Yankee served with the Sri Lanka Army Engineers Humanitarian Demining Unit for six years sniffing out mines and saving lives in mine-contaminated areas of Sri Lanka until retiring earlier this year. Together with her handler, she has cleared 62,680 square metres of mine-contaminated land.

Party to disarmament conventions

After the change in regime on January 8, 2015 Sri Lanka eventually became party to the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) also known as the Ottawa Convention last December and at the end of February this year, Cabinet also took the decision to become party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM).

Meanwhile, speaking to the Daily News, the Coordinator of the Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines (SLCBL) Vidya Abhayagunawardena said this was a huge achievement for Sri Lanka. “This is the first time that a special envoy to the mine ban treaty has visited the country. In fact, Sri Lanka is a success story in mine clearance. We have the lowest rate of mine related incidents in the region compared to other countries such as Cambodia, Laos etc. Sri Lanka reported only two mine related incidents last year, having cleared 500 sq. km of mine infested area by the end of the war. Currently, Sri Lanka has just 27 sq. km left to be cleared,” he noted.

The government also intends to complete mine clearance activities by 2020. “If we can achieve that target, Sri Lanka would be the first country in the region to rid the country of mines completely.

Then, Sri Lanka would become Universal Ambassadors to the convention. Meanwhile, Cabinet last Tuesday took the decision to become party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. This year happens to be the 10 anniversary of the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions,” he said.

During the war, the Military had used landmines as a defensive weapon while the LTTE used it as an offensive weapon. The army had laid mines during the war according to international patterns while the LTTE had randomly laid mines, making it harder to clear as it has to be done inch by inch. Each deminer is allocated one sq. metre to be demined at a time.

According to the Landmines and Cluster Munitions Monitor, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, commonly referred to as the Mine Ban Treaty, was adopted on September 18, 1997 and entered into force on March 1, 1999. As of November 19, 2014, there were 162 States Parties to the treaty and the treaty is still open for ratification by signatories and for accession by those who did not sign before March 1999.

Sri Lanka, last December became the 163rd nation to accede to the anti-personnel mine ban convention, fulfilling the pledge it made in 2016 to join the international community in supporting the ongoing landmine clearance programme.

Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation

The Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation was formed in 1987 with the aim of reaching out to people with loss of limb through a total rehabilitation programme. Speaking to the Daily News, the Chairperson of the Centre, Dr Ganeshamoorthy said the past five years were most challenging, having experienced unprecedented instability in their sustainability with the local and international NGOs closing down their operations and moving away from Sri Lanka.

Therefore, they now have a new strategy since 2017 to form a strategic alliance with the Northern Provincial Council while still remaining as an independent organization.

She said around 37 percent of their staff are disabled and at the time of commencement, most of those who required artificial limbs were mine victims.

However, she said now the number of mine victims is far lesser while road accident victims and those who have lost their limbs due to diabetes have overtaken the mine victim numbers.

Initially the centre had provided artificial limbs to around 2,000 mine victims and those with war injuries.

“At the end of the war those who required artificial limbs had to go to Colombo. Hence we formed this organization as we felt there was a need to have such a centre in Jaffna itself,” Dr Ganeshamoorthy said.

Leave a comment

Filed under accountability, charitable outreach, de-mining, disaster relief team, governance, historical interpretation, landscape wondrous, life stories, military expenditure, politIcal discourse, power politics, security, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, unusual people, world events & processes

Leave a Reply