Tamil mine-clearers struggle without equipment, funds

[TamilNet, Saturday, 18 May 2002, 18:20 GMT]
(NEWS FEATURE) The estimated 1.4 million pieces of live ammunition, including 86,700 anti-personnel mines, remaining in territory formerly controlled by the Sri Lanka Army are taking a long time to clear due to the lack of equipment and funding, according to the official in charge of clearing the unexploded ordnance.

Mr Yogan, coordinator of the Humanitarian Landmine Clearance Section expressed his frustration at the lack of resources for a project that is holding up the rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of people.

Thousands landmines left behind by the Sri Lanka army in the villages and towns of the Vanni region were removed. (Photo TamilNet)
The landmine clearing work in LTTE controlled areas is currently being funded solely by the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, said Mr Yogan. He noted that elsewhere in the world, such projects received support from United Nations agencies.

"The lack of even basic equipments means my team has to ignore large areas, focusing only on the areas identified for resettlement by refugees," Mr Yogan noted.

An American team recently sent to carry out mine clearance has so far only worked in parts of Sarasalai where the Sri Lanka army is based and uninhabited by civilians. The team, still awaiting the arrival of some their equipment, had recovered just 64 anti-personnel mines the Colombo-based Sudaroli reported last week.

The Humanitarian Landmine Clearance Section has so far deactivated more than 134,000 mines, shells and other explosives in various areas across the north and east.

Despite the risk, people have resettled in some areas, such as Paappamottai, Periyamadu, Kaarisuttan, Paalampitty, Mullikkulam, Iranai Illuppaikulam and Pallamadu even though they are yet to be cleared. Many of these areas remain uncleared due to the lack of funds, Mr Yogan points out.

Mines planted by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) troops in their former defence positions running from Pallamadu to Manal Aru are said to be proving especially difficult to remove. Civilians have been warned that expected floods may bring with them mines that litter former SLA frontlines.

The land and waters around the former SLA base c complex at Elephant Pass are said to contain an estimated 1,400 mines per kilometre stretch of defence lines. These have not to be cleared, as resettlement by civilians is unlikely in the short-term, according to Mr Yogan.

Mr Yogan noted that the SLA breached the Ottawa Convention by planting anti-personnel mines and called for international assistance to deactivate them.

Humanitarian Landmine Clearance Section is made up mostly of volunteers who use nothing more sophisticated than garden forks to examine areas suspected to contain mines inch by inch. Without even the basic personal protective equipment, many volunteers have been injured and some killed by buried mines and booby traps.

The Mathagal Farmers' Society has also appealed for more than 450 acres of paddy fields near the Panavetty Amman temple to be cleared so planting can start again. The area used to be home to a large SLA base and has a defence bund made of earth running through it. Soldiers heavily mined the bund and the base itself, the society said, pointing out that although the army was no longer there the mines remained very mush live. Several cattle that strayed onto the land have either died or lost limbs, said the society.

Meanwhile, a sixteen year old became the seventh victim in the past week when he activated a buried mine in Meesalai on May 14. Kandasamy Sivathas was injured when he drove a pole into the ground to tie cattle he was tending.

Father-of-three R. Sellathurai lost a leg when he stepped on a mine while mending a fence in Ariyalai on May 12. Originally from the area, his family was displaced to Kokkuvil and Mr Sellathurai had returned to his hometown to carry out manual labour, reported Thinakkural.

Landmine clearing work in LTTE controlled. (Photo:TamilNet)


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