De-mining programme hailed
By Feizal Samath
An Ethiopian government delegation visited Sri Lanka last week to study the country’s foreign funded de-mining programme that has been hailed by at least three other war-torn countries.

Teklowold Mengesha, Director of the Ethiopian Mine Action Office, told The Sunday Times, that their initial assessment of Sri Lanka’s programme had been correct. “We are learning a lot from the Sri Lanka programme, particularly the mine risk education and awareness aspects,” he said by telephone from Jaffna where the three-member team spent a few days.

Dr. A. N. Kunasingham, secretary of the government’s National Steering Committee for Mine Action (NSCMA), said that Burundi, Sudan and Cambodia have also said they would like to learn from Sri Lanka’s mine action efforts.

So far 150,000 to 200,000 mines have been removed out of an estimated 1.5 million landmines in the north and east with plans to remove all mines by 2006. Dr. Kunasingham said one of the reasons why the Sri Lanka programme stands out from other countries is because it is controlled and owned by the state and is cost-effective. The rate of landmine casualties has also fallen to 5 to 10 a month now from 15 to 20 earlier while 15 percent of the estimated 14.49 million sq. metres that have been mined, has been cleared so far.

Mengesha said in Ethiopia 360,000 people have been displaced while there is an estimate of over one million mines used in a 18-month long conflict between government and rebel forces.

He said one of the positive elements in Sri Lanka is that international standards and procedures are being followed in the de-mining exercise here. Derhane Achame, head of Ethiopia’s mine risk education section, said they were impressed by awareness programmes here handled by three local NGOs. “This is well coordinated, using different techniques like home-to-home education and street dramas among other methods,” he said. Another success is the cooperation between military and civilian de-miners.

Donors say Sri Lanka’s 2006 target of removing all anti-personnel mines is ambitious due to a shaky peace process and shrinking donor funds. Netherlands ambassador Susan Blankhart, reflecting donor concerns, noted at a recent meeting on landmine action that donors need assurances that landmines won’t be used again.

“In the perspective of a donor country such a guarantee is of great importance. As far as Switzerland is concerned as a donor, an engagement in mine action without parallel moves towards the international instruments banning landmines is an exceptional situation, which is not sustainable on a long-term perspective”, she said.

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