Sri Lanka: Humanitarian Mine Action Helps Families Return Home

Posted by Emma Smith
September 3, 2009
Deminer Places Disarmed Landmine in Safety Area in Sri Lanka

About the Author: Emma Smith is an assistant program manager for Afghanistan, Sudan, and Sri Lanka in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

How many landmines does it take to cripple a community? In a recent trip to Sri Lanka, I was surprised to learn that the answer could be zero.

We visited the northern village of Marathanmadhu, which the Sri Lankan Army suspected to be filled with buried landmines — a deadly legacy in many parts of the country after a 20-year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). While the conflict finally ended earlier this year, residents of Marathanmadhu were among the approximately 280,000 Sri Lankans driven from their homes during the final round of fighting.

When our partners from Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a British nongovernmental organization, came in to clear the mines, their survey team found that the village was actually not affected at all. This puzzled me. How could an entire village sit empty when it housed no real threat?

In Marathanmadhu and other areas formerly controlled by the LTTE, there are no records of where minefields were placed. As such, returning too soon to a village could prove fatal. With the perceived threat of landmines in or near one’s house, water sources, or children’s school, anyone would think twice about returning.

This is one of the challenges facing communities across Sri Lanka and in many post-conflict nations around the world, from Angola to Afghanistan, and why humanitarian mine action is key setting the stage for peace, stability, and political reconciliation.

Since 1993, the United States has been the world’s leading contributor to post-conflict efforts to remove landmines and unexploded munitions around the globe through the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action program, an interagency partnership that also includes the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The program has delivered over $1.4 billion in aid to nearly 50 counties around the world for:

• Mine clearance projects by 63 partner organizations including groups like MAG, the Danish Demining Group, and Swiss Foundation for Mine Action;
• Mine-risk education to help area residents avoid injury by identifying potential hazards;
• Research and development into new demining technologies;
• Training local demining technicians in affected countries; and
• Supporting rehabilitation programs serving those injured by landmines and unexploded munitions.

The United States has provided $56 million in humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka in 2009, including $6.6 million in emergency funding for international humanitarian demining NGOs to clear landmines and unexploded ordinance and help displaced families return to their homes as safely and quickly as possible. This aid is in addition to $1.4 million to Sri Lanka in 2008, which funded efforts by a constellation of local and international NGOs to clear over 2 million square meters of land of abandoned landmines and unexploded munitions, allowing over 8,400 people to return home safely, according to the latest edition of To Walk the Earth in Safety, an annual report from my office, the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

When time is of the essence and safe land for families to resettle is vital, even knowing that a village has not been contaminated by landmines is of critical importance. For villages like Marathanmadhu, this knowledge alone has already allowed 70 families to return to their homes with an anticipated 270 more on the way.



New York, USA
September 4, 2009

Ron in New York writes:

Mining the Intelligence......

Who built them?
who shipped them?
Who sold them?
who bought them?
Who armed them?
who placed them?
Who profited from them?

How much money is in the mine business?

What does the world look like when you Google-Mines?

Maryland, USA
September 4, 2009

Patrick in Maryland writes:

Hi, Netizens of the Department of States :)

I'm happy to see Hillary is back from her Vacation, and hopfully was able to get some rest. I know she must have needed some rest after all her traveling and work she has been doing lately .:)

It's good to know our country is working to help clear mines in countries whos citizen need a safe place to live after a conflict in there countries. I hope more people will be able to return too there homes in the future.

I also like to congratulate Ambassador Susan Rice on her presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the Month of September. :) I thought her video conference on Nuclear nonproliferation was Very Good hope to see more of her videos on the Department of States web site.

..Have a Great Labor Day weekend Cya :) :)

South Korea
September 6, 2009

Palgye in South Korea writes:

Dear to ...

it`s tragedy to Southeast Asia



Probably is forecast with the fact that will do the food warehouse reverse of Southeast Asia.Are like that, now the State Department and Asia nations.Has a many interest about the land mine of Republic of Sri Lanka and is a cold night, thinks.

Persuades a circumference country, be difficult with humane attention in thought, Like this writes the sentence which is impolite. it`s very slow than my predict.

and, why?


P.S. Visited India and Africa,

With in future prospect and course of development the small book there isn't an intention which will publish about the practical plan which is concrete?

Thinks with the thought which is personal and that is important, aproaches carefully.

New York, USA
September 8, 2009

Ron in New York writes:

After the parade.....

U.S. leads the world in arms sales..."conventional arms" such an ironic the global economy tanks....US increases arms sales to the world....

Then, we launch demining projects....just nuts!

The analogy fits, "first you cripple us, then you donate wheelchairs".....No kidding, we need to see ourselves clearly if we are to make any progress at all.

United States
September 9, 2009

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

Ron in New York has a valid argument.

Land mines kill indiscriminately and it is hypocrisy on our part to sell them around the world and then boast about our effort to remove them.

It is more likely that guerilla forces will use our mines against us. We would not have to remove them if we stopped selling landmines and persuaded other arms dealers to do the same.

One might use an analogy of the spring-gun trap set by homeowners to kill a burglar. Courts have held the homeowner personally liable for damages when the trap actually shoots someone, because the trap kills anyone, regardless of their intent. In similar fashion, one could argue that the seller of landmines should be held liable for civilian deaths and injuries caused by leftover landmines which explode long after a war had ended because that result is completely foreseeable.

The seller of landmines has a duty to render them safe after they are no longer needed for war. Failure to do so could be considered negligence per se. This could entail some sort of RFID chip placed in the mines to allow them to be located, or an explosive charge that deteriorated at a known rate to become inert and harmless after a year or two.

It should be legally inexcusable for a seller to sell landmines capable of killing and injuring people years after the war had ended.

District Of Columbia, USA
September 17, 2009

DipNote Blogger Emma Smith writes:

@ Zharkov in U.S.A. -- Actually, the United States has not exported a single anti-personnel landmine to anyone anywhere in almost 20 years. In 1992, Congress enacted a ban on exports of all U.S. anti-personnel landmines. For more facts about U.S. landmine policy, visit our Web page.

Maryland, USA
October 13, 2009

Kenneth in Maryland writes:

Contrary to some earlier comments, land mines laid extensively by the Tamil Tigers were not imported. They were manufactured by them in their own workshops, both in Sri Lanka and in South India. Most of the fairly sophisticated land mines used by terorists in South Asia and the Middle East are locally manufactured. Terrorist movements like the LTTE were making fairly sophisticated arms, torpedo boats and heavy multi-barrelled mortars on their own.


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