+   *    +     +     
About Us 
The Issues 
Our Research Products 
Order Publications 
Press Room 
Resources for Monitor Researchers 
SRI LANKA, Landmine Monitor Report 1999



The Sri Lankan government has been engaged in an intense civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) since 1983. Mines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have been used extensively by the LTTE in the conflict. Government forces have also used antipersonnel mines.

Most of the conflict has taken place in the northern and eastern provinces which are heavily contaminated with landmines.[1] One severely mined area is the Jaffna peninsula, which the government now controls and is encouraging resettlement of people displaced by the war. The UN Development Program (UNDP) noted in 1998, “Landmines laid by both the Sri Lankan military and by the Armed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have caused increasing numbers of civilian deaths and casualties particularly as returnees begin to rehabilitate their dwellings and to re-cultivate gardens and fields. Naturally, many innocent children become victims.”[2] Fighting, and use of antipersonnel mines by both sides, continues to this day.

Mine Ban Policy

Sri Lanka has not signed the Mine Ban Treaty. Government officials say that Sri Lanka is opposing the ban for internal security reasons. ''Sri Lanka welcomes, in principle, a verifiable ban on APLMs [antipersonnel landmines] but is not in a position to accede to such a treaty in the near future due to legitimate national security requirements arising out of the current situation.”[3] At the ban treaty signing ceremony in Ottawa in December 1997, the Sri Lankan representative said, “As a matter of principle the Government of Sri Lanka welcomes a comprehensive ban on antipersonnel mines as it has a laudable humanitarian goal. However, such as ban should certainly encompass the use of antipersonnel mines by security forces as well as by terrorist groups like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.”[4]

The representative continued, “The Government of Sri Lanka is therefore conscious of the fact that antipersonnel mines are a legitimate defense weapon in the context of protecting the security forces installations against the threat caused by terrorist groups. Further, at a time when Sri Lankan armed forces are engaged in a war with the LTTE terrorists...it is not conducive for Sri Lanka to be a signatory to a convention which totally prohibits the production, use, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel mines.”[5] Some observers believe that the government is unlikely to agree to a treaty banning landmine use by states until the question of IEDs and use by non-state actors in internal armed conflicts is satisfactorily addressed.[6]

Sri Lanka attended the preparatory meetings of the Ottawa Process, including the negotiations in Oslo and the treaty signing in Ottawa, but always as an observer, not a full participant. At the Vienna conference in February 1997 to discuss elements of a ban treaty, out of the 111 governments attending, Sri Lanka was one of only four who spoke openly of their continued need to use antipersonnel mines.[7] Yet, Sri Lanka voted “yes” on the pro-ban UNGA Resolutions in 1996, 1997, and 1998, indicating its support at some level for a ban at some point in time. Sri Lanka has not signed the Convention on Conventional Weapons. Sri Lanka is a member of the Conference on Disarmament, but has not been a notable proponent or opponent of mine negotiations in that forum.


The LTTE were originally trained in use of mines and IEDs by Indian security forces and later used these techniques with great effect against them during 1987-90. The LTTE are considered among the most skilled in the world in improvised explosives use.[8] According to a U.S. government report, “The separatists mine specific routes used by government forces, and usually warn the local population, thereby lowering civilian casualties.”[9] They use pressure mines captured from government forces as well as their homemade mines and IEDs.[10] Use has been particularly heavy in the northern and eastern regions.

In February 1999, Sri Lankan officials were quoted as saying they could not sign the ban treaty because the armed forces fighting Tamil rebels heavily depend on various types of mines.[11] The government has used mines to defend localities against rebel ambushes and raids. The UNDP has noted that government forces have laid two types of antipersonnel mines: Chinese Type 72A and Pakistani P4. It has also said, “Although minefield records have been produced they are rarely accurate.... Mines have been laid in front of defensive positions which have subsequently been hurriedly evacuated and the mines forgotten about. We have also encountered numerous examples in similar locations of ordnance rigged to an initiation chain and command wire. The most notorious example so far has been two 20 kg charges located under a classroom floor in a Technical College, abandoned, undocumented and forgotten about by the Army.”[12]

According to the UNDP, both sides of the conflict have agreed that they will not lay mines in any of the areas targeted by the UNDP mine action project in Jaffna.[13]

Production, Transfer and Stockpiling

The Sri Lankan government is not thought to be a producer of antipersonnel mines. The LTTE has manufactured IEDs and homemade mines in significant numbers, including one known as a “Johnny” or “Jony” mine.[14] UNDP describes this as the “most commonly encountered” mine, a small wooden box with 3-400 grams of TNT or C4 that explodes from pressure. The LTTE also makes and uses a directional fragmentation, Claymore-type mine.[15]

It is likely that the government has received antipersonnel mines from China and Pakistan. The government claims that a wide range of weapons are readily available to the LTTE, including explosives and mines. In particular, the Army claims that antipersonnel mines have been supplied to the LTTE by Bulgaria and Romania, or obtained from these countries by clandestine traders.[16] The size of the APM stockpiles of the government and the LTTE are unknown.

Landmine Problem

There are an estimated 25,000 landmines planted in Sri Lanka.[17] The northern and eastern provinces are badly mine-affected. Landmines littering the Jaffna peninsula have slowed down the government's efforts to resettle civilians there. The UNDP has noted that on the Jaffna peninsula, “landmines are scattered widely, sometimes indiscriminately, and often outside marked minefields; it is common for them to be found in gardens and buildings.... Many of the people returning to their homes and fields have become mine casualties, being unaware of the presence of landmines or UXO in a formerly safe environment.”[18]

UNDP has also said, “The greater proportion of mines in Jaffna are the antipersonnel type and they can be found virtually anywhere from marked minefields, to agricultural land, to houses and gardens. Quantities are difficult to calculate, but it is estimated that there are around 50 to 75 square kilometres of suspect or contaminated land.”[19]

Mine Clearance and Mine Awareness

The Army conducts some mine clearance operations. According to the UN, however, “It is common for the Army to declare an area clear and a day or two later for a mine casualty to be reported there.... In one case Sri Lanka sappers were clearing a minefield containing 55 mines they had laid, using their own records as reference. They failed to recover three mines which they considered a satisfactory result.”[20]

In late 1997, the UNDP conducted a feasibility study which concluded that there was a serious mine problem and that it was feasible to initiate a mine action program to reduce the impact of landmines on local communities.[21] A pilot project was started in Jaffna in April 1998. The UNDP states, “A mine action plan was formulated which addressed several aspects of mine action, but which stopped short of the systematic clearance of densely mines areas. Instead, the plan focused upon a more cost-effective and locally appropriate approach.”[22] Elements of the plan include: a mine awareness program with UNICEF; a level one survey to identify suspect areas and facilitate prioritization; followed by a level two survey supported by mine dog teams aimed at accurate surveying and physical marking of densely mined areas; a rapid response capacity to clear reported mines and UXOs posing an immediate threat to people or vital facilities; a victim rehabilitation component. Systematic clearance of minefields must wait for peace. “As long as mines continue to be laid by either side it is difficult to justify the risk and cost of systematic demining in the country.”[23]

According to press accounts, the project is expected to take about two years and cost $3.5 million. British sniffer dogs will be used. Some mine areas will be cordoned off and not cleared.[24]

The project was initially supposed to be fully operational by August 1998, but due to the “lengthy and complex bureaucratic process” of the government, it is now hoped that full operational capacity will be reached in mid-1999, though “further difficulties suggest this target will slip yet again.”[25]

To date, only a few areas close to Jaffna have been cleared of mines. Vast stretches of farmland and villages in the peninsula remain mine infested.

Landmine Casualties

There are no official Sri Lankan government figures of casualties. According to UNDP representative Svend Madsen between 15 and 20 people in the Jaffna peninsula become mine casualties every month.[26] Children are particularly vulnerable. A U.S. government report indicated that there have been thousands of mine casualties, now occurring at a rate of 15 per month.[27] Non-governmental groups say at least 196 people were killed between May and December 1996. Udayan, a top-selling Tamil language weekly published from Jaffna, said 84 people died and 145 were injured between January and August 1997. Landmine Monitor has a list of major landmine incidents in Sri Lanka 1995-1997 compiled from the United Nations Demining Database.[28]

Survivor Assistance

The UNDP notes that hospitals are poorly equipped and unable to acquire basic drugs such as anaesthetics. Because of the conflict, there is no reliable road or air link between Jaffna and the main city of Colombo. There is the possibility of air evacuations by military aircraft, but it cannot be counted on. “The alternative is to enhance local capacity by importing expertise and providing dedicated drug supplies to enable casualties to be treated in Jaffna. The professional competence of local medics is reasonably high, but there are serious shortcomings in management practices.”[29]


[1] United Nations Development Program (UNDP), “Mine Action Pilot Project Jaffna,” undated, but February 1999, p. 1.

[2] UNDP, “Sri Lanka, UNDP and Mine Action,” May 1998.

[3] Feizal Samath, “Sri Lanka Opposes Landmine Ban, but Turns to UN for Help,” 2 November 1997, at http://www.ips.org

[4] Statement of the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Ottawa, Canada, 2 December 1997.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Dipankar Banerjee, Co-director Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, “South Asian Regional Survey,” prepared for Landmine Monitor, p. 25.

[7] International Campaign to Ban Landmines press release, “Mine Ban Closer to Reality,” 14 February 1997.

[8] Dipankar Banerjee, Co-director Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, “South Asian Regional Survey,” prepared for Landmine Monitor, p. 25.

[9] U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Landmine Crisis, December 1994, p. 19.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Xinhua, “Sri Lanka Not to Sign Anti-Landmines Treaty,” 2 February 1999.

[12] UNDP, “Mine Action Pilot Project Jaffna,” p.4.

[13] Ibid., p. 2.

[14] Ibid, p. 4, and Hidden Killers, December 1994, p. 19.

[15] UNDP, p. 4-5.

[16] Statement by a Sri Lankan Brigadier General at the South Asian Regional Landmines Workshop, Dhaka, 7-8 December 1998.

[17] U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Landmine Crisis, September 1998, p. A-2.

[18] UNDP, “Mine Action Pilot Project Jaffna,” p. 1.

[19] Ibid., p. 4.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., p 1.

[22] Ibid., p. 2.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Reuters, “UN launches drive in Sri Lanka to clear landmines,” Colombo, 25 June 1998; NEB/RAE newswire report, Vandana Chopra, “Sri Lanka/Landmine,” Colombo, 23 June 1998; Xinhua, “UN to Begin Landmine Clearing in Northern Sri Lanka,” 15 November 1998.

[25] UNDP, “Mine Action Pilot Project Jaffna,” p. 3.

[26] Reuters, “UN launches drive in Sri Lanka to clear landmines,” Colombo, 25 June 1998. The February 1999 UNDP report stated, “The number of casualties, around ten per month, relative to the size of the population of less than half a million, was high and showing every indication of increasing.” UNDP, “Mine Action Pilot Project Jaffna.”

[27] U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Landmine Crisis, September 1998, p. A-5.

[28] See, Dipankar Banerjee, Co-director Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, “South Asian Regional Survey,” prepared for Landmine Monitor.

[29] UNDP, p. 6.