Sri Lanka has cleared a fifth of land mines, says official
International and local humanitarian agencies together with the Sri Lankan military and Tamil Tiger rebels have unearthed 175,000 mines and unexploded ordnance, chairman of the mine action panel, Bradman Weerakoon, said.
"The mine action program is the success story since the ceasefire," Weerakoon said, referring to the Norwegian-arranged truce between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels in operation since February 2002.
He said that since the truce, a major effort was underway in the embattled northern and eastern regions to clear mines and allow hundreds of thousands of civilians to return to their homes.
Weerakoon, also the Secretary to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, said the government had turned its back on the use of land mines and Tamil Tiger rebels too had indicated they would also reciprocate.
He noted that the Sri Lankan military as well as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), although officially still foes, had shown a commitment to clearing mines and training locals to become deminers.
About 2,000 Sri Lankans have already been trained in the techniques of defusing land mines and destroying unexploded ordnance in embattled areas, Weerakoon said.
"We think by the end of 2006 we should be able to rid the country of these weapons which cause harm and damage long after the conflict is over," Weerakoon said.
The number of mine casualties had dropped drastically from 15 a month to five to seven thanks to mine clearance as well as a well co-ordinated mine awareness campaign run by United Nations children's fund UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies, he added.
Weerakoon Wednesday took part at an official ceremony where Japan donated 605,000 dollars for another mine clearing operation to be carried out in Sri Lanka by the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action.
He said the humanitarian de-mining operations were going on despite a suspension of peace talks between the Tamil Tigers and the Colombo government since April last year.
Copyright (c) 2004 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 01/28/2004 07:54:10
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