Colombo, April 3, 2007: The United States joins Sri Lanka in observing the second annual International Day of Mine Awareness and Mine Action on April 4. Sri Lanka has made impressive strides to rid the island of mines. The National Steering Committee for Mine Action, under the Ministry of Nation Building and Development, has set ambitious goals for the future, and the United States has been a partner with Sri Lanka from the beginning of the mine clearing effort.
In 2002, the U.S. Department of State deployed a Quick Reaction Force of skilled de-miners from the U.S. mine removal program in Mozambique. This was followed by a State Department- funded partnership between the Sri Lankan Army's Engineering Brigade and RONCO, a de-mining contractor, to build a permanent de-mining capacity in the Sri Lankan Army. Over the last five years, the State Department has spent almost $10 million training and equipping nearly 900 humanitarian de-miners as well as providing vehicles, computers and equipment to the de-mining squadrons of the Engineering Brigade, making it the largest and most productive unit, clearing 5 million square meters for resettlement and agriculture. The U.S. Department of Defense has shared innovative mechanical technology, including the MAXX + clearance system, a modified commercial-off-the-shelf mini-excavator with rotating blades, for field evaluations of technology with the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) humanitarian demining unit.
International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs) such as the Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI), the One Sri Lanka Foundation and the HALO Trust have come together to eliminate the threat of land mines and restore the economic livelihood of the citizens of Jaffna. Funded by a $4 million Food For Peace grant from the United States Government, HALO Trust is clearing thousands of square meters in Pandattarippu and Sarasalai South, as the first phase in HDI 's plan to clear 450,000 square meters of land to be used for the revitalization of Jaffna's dairy farming industry. The project will directly benefit 1,300 farmers and their families. Land O' Lakes, a leading American dairy producer, will implement the dairy development component of the project, which is expected to triple the supply of fresh milk available in Sri Lanka. This outcome will spur the further development of private sector dairy processing, allowing the Sri Lankan Government to decrease imports of expensive dried milk, thus making valuable funds available for other development efforts. As indirect beneficiaries, hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of the currently mine-affected villages in Jaffna will be able to safely walk to work, to school and to work their farms.
"We are proud to be a close partner with Sri Lanka in increasing the local capacity to detect and clear mines," stated U.S. Ambassador Robert Blake. "Despite the return to violence, dedicated de-mining squadrons from the Sri Lankan Army, INGOs such as the Humpty Dumpty Institute and the HALO Trust and private partnerships from Land O' Lakes are still dedicated to removing mines and economic redevelopment. We hope we will be able to assist the government in making the Sri Lanka mine-safe and productive so Sri Lankans can go about their daily lives free from the fear of mines."
The Leahy War Victims Fund, administered by USAID and implemented by the INGO Motivation Charitable Trust is providing $3,746,100 for a project that enhances opportunities for people with mine-related disabilities. This program includes the training of Sri Lankans overseas to become physical therapists and prosthetic technicians, introduces polypropylene prosthetic technology to Sri Lanka and expands rehabilitation services to include vocational training, job replacement, peer support and advocacy for mine victims. The program has issued 231 leg prosthetics and 99 orthotic braces to mine victims from the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation. The center has also provided physical and psychosocial therapy to 500 patients. There are also plans to open an office in Mannar in partnership with a Catholic charity.
The United States and the international community have supported Sri Lanka's efforts to return land contaminated by mines to productive use with technical assistance, mine risk education, and donations of money and material. The U.S. Embassy salutes all the dedicated Sri Lankans involved in the heroic effort to clear the island of mines, and offers our continued support in the years ahead.