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Landmine Monitor: Asia ICBL/Landmine Monitor Regional Meeting

Asia ICBL/Landmine Monitor Regional Meeting

Report on Activities. Colombo, Sri Lanka. 27-30 January 2003.

Representatives of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and its Landmine Monitor research network met in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 27-31 January 2003 for an Asia-wide regional meeting to prepare the ICBL’s fifth annual report on landmines.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, Hon. Ranil Wickremasinghe welcomed the ICBL in a statement provided to the opening plenary on Monday 27 January. He said, “As we now move towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict, I am able to say that we are in a position to consider an agreement regarding the non-use of antipersonnel landmines.”

Sri Lanka’s north and eastern regions are heavily mine-affected as a result of the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that started in 1983. The LTTE and the Sri Lankan government agreed to a ceasefire in February 2002, and since then neither side is believed to have resorted to new use of antipersonnel mines. At the meeting, the ICBL urged all non-signatory countries of the region, including Sri Lanka, to join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty without delay and called on non-state actors to renounce the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines, including by submitting a Deed of Commitment affirming this stance.

Speakers at the opening plenary included: Dr. Jayalath Jayawardana, the Minister of Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Refugees; Alex van Roy, Chief Technical Expert in mine action with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); UNICEF; mine action NGOs including the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD), Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and the Mines Advisory Group (MAG); diplomatic representatives from Canada and Switzerland; Landmine Monitor’s Global Research Coordinator, Mary Wareham; and religious dignitaries from the Inter-Religious Peace Foundation (IRPF), which coordinates the Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines (SLCBL). During the plenary, the SLCBL presented their two million-signature petition calling for a landmine ban to a representative of the UN Resident Country Coordinator.

The closed ICBL/Landmine Monitor meeting started on Monday afternoon and continued until midday on Wednesday, 29 January. Participants discussed their advocacy activities and strategies for the region in the lead-up to the Fifth Meeting of States Parties (5MSP) to the Mine Ban Treaty, which will be held in Bangkok, Thailand from 15-19 September 2003. They met in pairs with Landmine Monitor research coordinators for their region, ban policy, mine action, victim assistance to discuss their draft updates for Landmine Monitor Report 2003, which is scheduled for release on Tuesday, 9 September 2003.

On Wednesday afternoon, the participants left Colombo on a fieldtrip to the mine-affected region of the Vanni in the north of the country. After staying overnight in Anuradhapura, they stopped in Vavuniya to pick up their host for the fieldtrip, Ms. Leonie Barnes, UNDP’s technical advisor for mine action in the Vavuniya district. They then passed through border controls to enter the LTTE-controlled area and continued on to Killinochi. The journey up the main A9 highway, took them through former battle zones and, for kilometers, either side of the road was mine-affected marked by “danger mines” signs and warning tape in places.

In Killinochi, the participants visited a training site for deminers from the Humanitarian Demining Unit (HDU) of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO). They watched as the trainees used a common garden rake and a two-pronged hoe to detect and unearth mines. Sri Lankan Army deminers also use this “rake” method, which is believed to be unique to Sri Lanka. The HDU deminers do not yet have metal detectors or mine detection dogs, and only recently acquired basic protective gear, including safety helmets and vests. During a subsequent meeting with Lawrence Christy, Director of the TRO, the ICBL discussed TRO plans to bring their demining operation into compliance with the United Nations mine action standards, as well as their quality assurance method for recording land they have cleared. Christy said the HDU has removedsome 83,000 mines to date.

Tim Horner, the UNDP’s technical advisor for mine action in Jaffna district came down to Killinochi to brief the group on the mine problem further north. Antipersonnel mines commonly found by deminers include the Italian VS50, the Pakistani P4, the Chinese Type 72, and the LTTE’s “Jhony” wooden box mine. The participants also met with Mr. Pillai, administrative director of the “White Pigeon,” a NGO involved, inter alia, in mine awareness and prosthetic limb-manufacture.

Researchers for the following countries attended the Sri Lanka meeting: Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand. The Afghanistan, Burma, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, New Zealand and North Korea researchers were unable to attend. The Prime Minister also commented that, “within a few years of its existence, the Landmine Monitor publication has earned a global reputation for providing an accurate, impartial and comprehensive account of the antipersonnel landmine situation in the world. I have no doubt, that a good part of the credit for that, will go to the researchers present here today.”

The opening plenary and a subsequent media briefing on 31 January 2003 received widespread media coverage on national television, as well as print and radio. The SLCBL distributed translations of the 2002 report in Tamil and Sinhala.

The meeting took place at the Hotel Renuka in downtown Colombo, where the participants also stayed. Our sincerest appreciations goes to our host, Saliya Edirisinghe, for his tireless work in organizing the meeting and to the Inter-Religious Peace Foundation (IRPF), especially Rev. Dr. Oswald B. Firth, Dr. Cassim Moulavi (a Muslim cleric), Ven. Madampagama Assaji thero (a Buddhist monk), Rev. Freddy de Alwis (a Baptist minister), and Kadamba Kanan Das (a Hindu swarmi).

For more information please contact Saliya on saliyaed@sltnet.lk or see:

Posted by Briana Wilson at 17:49, 24 February 2003