Demining agencies last week said that despite the process moving into its final stages, they continued to recover over 2,000 mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) every month.
While the Government focused on infrastructure development and resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) following the end of the war, the demining process was of paramount importance to ensure that those resettled were safe from mines and other UXOs.
International demining operator, HALO Trust informed that at present they were finding nearly 2,000 mines every month.
A recent report published in the Guardian said there were evidences to prove that the Sri Lankan Government had used cluster bombs during the final stages of the war.
The images published were attributed to an ex-employee of the HALO Trust organization.
While Programme Manager of HALO Trust (at Nallur Cross Road, Jaffna), Damian O’Brien was not available for comment as he had gone abroad, a HALO Trust Team Member who was contacted by Nation, said that everything they did was reported to the Government (the National Mine Action Centre) on a monthly basis.
“The said information is reported as having been put out by a former Staff Member of the HALO Trust. We cannot comment about it. We do not engage in politics. We find thousands and thousands of mines per year. We destroy the mines. We are just here to make the country safe for its people by clearing mines, thereby supporting to pave the way for resettlement and agriculture,” he added.
No records of cluster bombs
The Sri Lanka National Mine Action Centre (SLNMAC) meanwhile said that it had no records of cluster bombs recovered during the demining process carried out in the war affected regions.
Speaking to Nation, Head of the SLNMAC, M.M. Nayeemudeen who is also the Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs pointed out that the center maintained a comprehensive database of the mines and UXOs that were recovered after the end of the war.
“The records that we have are carefully documented and are even submitted to the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining. But we have not come across evidence to suggest use of cluster bombs,” he said.
He further noted that the Defence Ministry was notified of the issue and that it would launch its own investigations into the authenticity of the photographs published in the said article.
Military Spokesman, Brigadier Jayanath Jayaweera said that at present there was still 54 square kilometres (km2) to be cleared as part of the ongoing demining process.
Following the end of the war, there was 2,064 (km2) to be cleared and as of now 2,010 km2 have been cleared, he added.
Local demining agency, the non-governmental organization Delvon Assistance for Social Harmony (DASH) informed that they had never come across any munitions of the nature of cluster munitions, cluster submunitions and cluster bombs in several demining sites in Puthukudiyiruppu.
Programme Manager of DASH, Brigadier Ananda Chandrasiri said that the normal process was to report of all the recoveries made, weekly to the office of the National Mine Action Centre (NMAC) through the regional mine action office in Kilinochchi, adding that this was a duty on the part of those engaged in demining.
In the case of discovery of something strange or explosive, we are required to submit a special report to the NMAC who will conduct an immediate inquiry and inform other demining organizations to exercise caution when demining in order to prevent demining related accidents in the field, he added.
The recoveries are not treated as evidence including forensic evidence and are not sent to the Government Analyst’s Department (especially the Explosives and Fire Investigation Section), he remarked.
In the demining process, the Military is yet another operator like us, however, we seek their assistance from the Army which sends a bomb disposal team on a reimburse the cost basis to dispose of anything strange including munitions, ammunitions and explosives, he explained.
Local demining operator, the Milinda Moragoda Institute for People’s Empowerment Organization was not available for a comment.
Meanwhile the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) last week said that the probe into alleged war crimes should also look into recent reports of alleged use of cluster bombs. “We are not going to make any special requests or demands to look into the recent reports. We have already demanded thorough investigations into allegations of war crimes. The probe should also incorporate the issue of cluster bombs,” TNA General Secretary, Mavai Senathirajah said.
Meanwhile, the Government has officially denied the allegations stating that the report was timed with the UN Human Rights Council sessions that were already underway in Geneva.
The Defence Ministry also pointed out that it would look into the matter and conduct a separate probe to verify the authenticity of the photographs that were published in the Guardian report last week.