Sri Lanka

Mine Action

Last updated: 12 December 2013

Contamination and Impact

Sri Lanka is extensively contaminated by mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), including abandoned explosive ordnance (AXO). Most of the contamination is in the north, the focus of three decades of armed conflict between the government and the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), which ended in May 2009. However, Sri Lankan estimates of contamination have fallen sharply from 506km2 at the end of 2010 to 98.66km2 at the end of 2012 despite small increases in estimated contamination in eastern districts. By the end of June 2013, the National Mine Action Center (NMAC) reported contamination of 89km2. Operators report there remained a need for clearance of some residential areas in the north and significant amounts of agricultural land but see the impact of ERW increasingly as an obstacle to development rather than a threat to community security.[1]

Remaining confirmed hazardous area (km²)[2]

District

End-February 2012

End-December 2012

Jaffna

5.43

4.16

Kilinochchi

23.76

19.45

Mullaitivu

29.81

20.14

Vavuniya

12.05

7.22

Mannar

33.42

25.99

Trincomalee

3.42

3.41

Batticaloa

14.33

14.67

Ampara

0.02

0.07

Anuradhapura

2.32

3.35

Polonnaruwa

0.18

0.19

Total

124.74

98.65

Mines

Both sides in the conflict made extensive use of landmines, including belts of Pakistani-made P4 MK1 mines laid by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA), and long defensive lines using a mixture of mines and booby-traps laid by the LTTE defending approaches to the northern town of Kilinochchi. The LTTE also left extensive nuisance mining in many northern districts, particularly in areas of intense fighting and often emplaced as its fighters retreated in the face of army offensives.[3]

Operators have encountered a wide range of LTTE devices, including antipersonnel mines with anti-tilt and anti-lift mechanisms, and often containing a larger explosive charge (up to 140g) than Pakistani-made P4 MK1 mines (30g). They also encountered tripwire-activated Claymore-type mines, and to a lesser extent antivehicle mines.[4]

Cluster munition remnants

The National Strategy says cluster munitions were not used in Sri Lanka at any time in the conflict.[5] A UN expert, however, concluded that unexploded submunitions were present in an area (Puthukudiyiruppu) where a boy was killed and a girl injured as they tampered with a device collected for sale as scrap metal. Media quoted an email from the UN technical advisor in Sri Lanka in which he affirmed that “after reviewing additional photographs from the investigation teams, I have determined that there are cluster submunitions in the area where the children were collecting scrap metal and in the house where the accident occurred. This was the first confirmed report of unexploded submunitions found in Sri Lanka.” A military spokesman denied the report.[6] A UN spokesman alleged the Sri Lankan military used cluster munitions in an attack on Puthukudiyiruppu Hospital in 2009 but the government rejected the report and the UN later retracted the statement.[7] The extent of any residual cluster munition contamination is not known.

Other explosive remnants of war

Extensive unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination resulted from the final years of the civil war in 2006−2009, particularly in the northern Vanni region, as a result of government use of air- and ground-delivered ordnance and LTTE artillery attacks. Operators also reported encountering mortars, grenades, air-delivered rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or booby-traps, including mortar shells rigged with trip-wires and sometimes linked to mines. Both the SLA and operators have also reported finding caches of mines and AXO.[8]

Mine Action Program

Key institutions and operators

Body

Situation on 1 January 20132

National Mine Action Authority

National Steering Committee for Mine Action (NSCMA)

Mine action center

NMAC

International demining operators

NGO:Danish Demining Group (DDG), Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD), HALO Trust (HALO), Horizon, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Sarvatra

National demining operators

NGO:Delvon Assistance for Social Harmony (DASH),Milinda Moragoda Institute for People’s Empowerment (MMIPE)

Government:SLA Humanitarian Demining Unit

International risk education operators

UNICEF, Internews

National risk education operators

Ministry of Education, SLA/Humanitarian Demining Unit, Community Trust Fund, EHED-Caritas, Sarvodaya, Social Organizations Networking for Development

The Ministry of Economic Development (until mid-2010 the Ministry of Nation Building and Estate Infrastructure Development) under Minister Basil Rajapakse, also a special advisor to the President, is the lead agency for mine action as the chair of the NSCMA, providing policy oversight to the sector. The NSCMA is made up of government ministries and departments with a stake in mine action, notably agriculture, disaster relief, resettlement, education, social affairs, and foreign affairs, and is supposed to “manage linkages within the government, mine action community and donors.”[9]

The NSCMA is not a permanent body. Its policies and decisions are implemented by the NMAC, set up in 2010[10] with responsibility for liaising with government ministries and development partners to determine mine action priorities, preparing a strategic plan, and setting annual work plans to put it into effect. It is also responsible for accrediting mine action operators, setting national standards, and acting as the secretariat of the NSCMA.[11] Clearance operations in the field are coordinated, tasked, and quality managed by Regional Mine Action Offices (RMAO), working in consultation with District Steering Committees for Mine Action. These committees are chaired by the government agents who head district authorities.[12]

UNDP has supported Sri Lanka’s mine action by providing an international technical advisor to the NMAC who, in the past two years, worked mainly on preparation of mine action standards and the drafting of the mine action strategy. It also provided two international technical advisors to the two RMAOs in Jaffna and Vavuniya. The technical advisor advising NMAC in Colombo left in 2012 and has not been replaced.[13]

In 2012, the NMAC started working on a plan to transfer mine action to the Ministry of Defense by the end of 2013.[14] No further details emerged in 2012, but NMAC also reported in 2013 that it planned to revise Sri Lanka’s strategic plan partly to address an expected slow-down in donor support for mine action. As a result of this reduced funding, Indian demining organizations Horizon and Sarvatra stopped working in September 2012 and two international NGOs, DDG and FSD, ended their programs in Sri Lanka in 2013. NMAC expected the small national NGO DASH to expand in order to absorb some of the personnel from international organizations leaving Sri Lanka.[15]

Land Release

The pace of land release by the Sri Lankan Army’s Humanitarian Demining Unit (SLA-HDU) and eight humanitarian demining organizations slowed in 2012 reflecting changing operational requirements and the effect of funding constraints. The amount of mined land NMAC reported released through clearance in 2012 was down 13% to 15.58km2 while battle area cleared in 2012—amounting to 6.56km2—was barely one-fifth of the area cleared in the previous year.[16]

Three-quarters of all clearance was in the northeastern district of Mullaitivu with a further 20% concentrated in Kilinochchi, Vavuniya, and the key rice producing district of Mannar. Small amounts of clearance also continue in eastern Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts.[17]

Five-year summary of clearance

Year

Mined area cleared (km2)

Battle area cleared (km2)

2012

15.58

6.56

2011

16.58

36.45

2010

13.22

255.90

2009

62.23

107.56

2008

4.33

164.54

Totals

111.94

571.01

Survey in 2012

The full extent of survey and areas canceled or reduced through survey is not known. FSD released a total of 1.22km2 through technical survey, most of it in the course of mechanical clearance.[18] HALO surveyed all the administrative districts in Kilinochchi’s Karachchi division as well as areas of Jaffna assigned to HALO after the withdrawal of DDG from the area in March 2012. HALO reported that it canceled 31 areas totalling 1.74km2 through non-technical survey (NTS) in 2012, destroying 18,348 antipersonnel mines in the process.[19] MAG cancelled three areas totalling 113,222m2 through NTS and released a further 3.5km2 through technical survey and area reduction.[20]

Mine and battle area clearance in 2012

The SLA-HDU, the biggest of the operators with over 1,000 personnel and a fleet of more than 30 flails, accounted for about two-thirds of all battle area clearance (BAC) and mined area clearance in 2012; however, while it cleared 60% more mined area than in the previous year, it released only 5.2km2 through BAC compared with close to 30km2 the previous year and the 202.3km2 it reported in 2011. At that time, with large numbers of people still displaced by the war, SLA-HDU’s BAC included large areas of quick visual verification to facilitate resettlement. Since then, the priority has shifted increasingly to more targeted mined area clearance. The SLA-HDU said the government would provide funding of some 250 million rupees (approximately US$1.9 million) in 2012.[21]

FSD reported lower levels of area clearance and technical survey in 2012 than the previous year and destruction of far fewer mines and UXO items, although explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams destroyed 2,052 items of UXO. Since 2010, FSD had also operated four teams undertaking clearance of wells. In 2012, these teams disposed of 13 antipersonnel mines and 96 items of UXO.

HALO remained the biggest of the international operators in 2012, working with more than 1,000 personnel in 95 manual sections, six mechanical teams, and four EOD/survey teams; however, it also reported a 12% reduction in area cleared. HALO identified one of the main major factors in the slowdown as degradation of the metal components in Rangan antipersonnel mines, the most widely found mine type in the areas of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. HALO stated that with the reduction in metal parts, probably due to water seepage, its Ebinger 421C detectors were no longer finding the mines and that it had switched to Minelab F3, which required time to train teams in the new equipment. However, the more sensitive Minelabs also picked up more metal scrap, slowing progress. In a bid to deal with that problem, HALO introduced HSTAMID dual sensor detectors at the end of 2012. In addition to the mines and ERW destroyed in the process of its area clearance operations, HALO’s survey/EOD teams disposed of 2,244 items of UXO and 24,315 items of AXO in the course of 1,145 roving tasks.[22]

MAG, working in Mullaitivu district’s Puthukkudiyuruppu division, cut its capacity by almost half to 130 personnel at the end of October 2012 after withdrawal of funding by AusAID. By the end of the year, MAG had cleared 762,013m2 of mined area and destroyed 2,026 antipersonnel mines and 30 antivehicle mines, mostly through mechanical ground preparation followed up by raking by manual teams. Its program looked set to nearly halve the number of staff to 77 staff in 2013 and reduce the number of mechanical assets from eight to five as a result of further funding cuts.

Mine and battle area clearance in 2012[23]

Operator

Mined area cleared (km2)

Battle area cleared

Antipersonnel mines destroyed

Antivehicle mines destroyed

UXO

DASH

421,068

0

2,537

0

1,160

DDG

477,195

4,852

13,958

10

6,108

FSD[24]

1,896,230

1,051,794

17,435

0

1,306

HALO[25]

1,943,875

198,972

18,654

360

66,169

Horizon

205,441

54,380

459

0

54

MAG

800,439

0

1,995

45

1,210

MMIPE

18,645

0

1,040

0

9

Sarvatra

385,478

0

16,014

7

252

SLA-HDU

9,435,545

5,246,126

5,291

5

10,608

Totals

15,583,916

6,556,124

77,383

427

86,876

Quality management

Quality assurance (QA) inspection of demining sites is conducted by teams based in RMAOs. Operators have reported that task sites are visited regularly by these QA teams, which also conduct post-clearance checks before handover. The NMAC also re-accredited all operators in 2011–2012 for the first time since 2004.[26]

Safety of demining personnel

HALO reported three incidents in 2012, but all staff were able to return to work. A deminer was injured in April 2014 after detonating a P4 mine in a Jaffna minefield, suffering small cuts and burns to his arms and losing a tooth from the force of the impact of his visor. Another mine detonation in the same minefield in May caused no injuries. In June, the accidental detonation of a fragmentation grenade during clearance of a bund resulted in injuries to three personnel nearby, but two returned to work immediately; a team leader who suffered an abdominal wound required a prolonged recovery period before returning to work.[27]

 



[1] NMAC, “Mid-year Progress Report on Mine Action as at 30 June 2013,” Colombo; Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD), “Final Programme Report of Swiss Foundation for Mine Action 2002−2013,” undated but 2013, pp. 3 and 19.

[2] NMAC, “Progress Report on Mine Action Programme,” Colombo, February 2012; and NMAC, “Annual Progress Report on Mine Action Programme Year 2012,” Colombo, February 2013.

[3] Interviews with demining operators, Colombo, 29 March–2 April 2010; and with Maj. Pradeep Gamage, Officer-in-Charge, North Jaffna Humanitarian Demining Unit (HDU), Jaffna, 3 April 2007.

[4] Interviews with demining operators, Colombo, 29 March–3 April 2010.

[5] “The National Strategy for Mine Action in Sri Lanka,” Ministry of Economic Development, September 2010, p. 4.

[7] Human Rights Watch and Landmine Action, Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice, Mines Action Canada, May 2009, p. 242.

[8] See, Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, “War materials recovered,” 30 December 2010; interviews with Brig. Udaya Nannayakara, Chief Field Engineer, HDU, Colombo, 30 March 2010; and with demining operators, Colombo, 29 March–3 April 2010.

[9] “The National Strategy for Mine Action in Sri Lanka,” Ministry of Economic Development, September 2010, p. 9.

[10] The cabinet formally approved the creation of the NMAC on 10 July 2010.

[11] Email from Amanthi Wickramasinghe, Programme Officer − Peace and Recovery, UNDP, Colombo, 11 March 2011.

[12] “The National Strategy for Mine Action in Sri Lanka,” Ministry of Economic Development, September 2010, pp. 9−11; and interview with Allan Poston, Senior Technical Advisor, UNDP, Phnom Penh, 1 December 2011.

[13] Email from Amanthi Wickramasinghe, UNDP, 11 March 2011; and interview with Allan Poston, UNDP, in Phnom Penh, 1 December 2011.

[14] Email from Allan Poston, UNDP, 11 September 2012.

[15] Interview with Monty Ratanunga, Director Mine Action, NMAC, in Geneva, 11 April 2013.

[17] Ibid.

[18] FSD, “Final Programme Report of Swiss Foundation for Mine Action 2002−2013,” undated but 2013, pp. 14−15.

[19] Email response to Landmine Monitor questions from Valon Kumnova, Desk Officer, HALO Trust, 23 September 2013.

[20] Email response to Landmine Monitor questions by Jacqui Brownhill, Desk Officer, MAG, 29 October 2013.

[21] Interview with Brig. Dhananjith Karunaratne, Commander Engineer Brigade, SLA, in Geneva, 29 March 2012.

[22] Email response to Monitor questions from Valon Kumnova, HALO, 23 September 2013.

[24] FSD reported destroying 17,867 antipersonnel mines and 581 UXO items through land release operations in 2012 and also a further 677 antipersonnel mines, 1 antivehicle mine, and 2,052 UXO items through EOD operations. FSD, “Final Programme Report of Swiss Foundation for Mine Action 2002−2013,” undated but 2013, pp. 14−15.

[25] HALO reported clearing 1.78km2 of mined area and 0.49km2 of BAC, resulting in destruction of a total of 18,127 antipersonnel mines, 357 antivehicle mines, and 1,944 UXO items. In addition, HALO reported that its survey/EOD teams destroyed 18,348 antipersonnel mines and 17 antivehicle mines. Email response to Monitor questions from Valon Kumnova, HALO, 23 September 2013.

[26] Interview with Monty Ratanunga, NMAC, Geneva, 29 March 2012; and email from Adam Jasinski, HALO, Colombo, 14 April 2011.

[27] Email response to Monitor questions from Valon Kumnova, HALO, 23 September 2013.