a battle for life with bare hands
Inspite of ongoing de-mining operations,
desperate Jaffna farmers are risking their lives by manually de-mining
their own plots of land to continue cultivation
By Dhanuusha Pathirana in Jaffna
Armed with only pieces of metal and sticks, farmers in Jaffna are
fighting a different kind of war as they struggle to de-mine their
lands and start re-cultivating them.
people are so desperate and depend on cultivation for their livelihood
that they say they cannot wait for the army or an NGO to do the
job for them. Some farmers have already cleared their own lands
of mines and have planted onions and vegetables.
this crude and unsafe method of clearing mines has proved harmful
to the people themselves, as some of the unearthed mines are thrown
to adjoining plots of land. In some instances farmers remove the
explosives from the mines and sell them to fishermen who use them
for mid and deep-sea fishing.
their pathetic plight a farmer said, “our only means of survival
is cultivation. But these plots of land have mines buried beneath
and many farmers have become victim to them while trying to cultivate
About 1.5 million mines have been laid by the army and the LTTE
during the 20 years of war. According to sources, about 190 cases
of mine related accidents have been reported since the signing of
accidents occurred either when trying to clear the mines or by stepping
on them inadvertently. Thirupalan, a villager in Theriddy lost both
his legs to an anti personnel mine while cultivating his own block
of land. His wife Jandanee is now compelled to do hard labour to
feed her five children and disabled husband.
children are four, five, seven, ten and twelve years old. Two of
them go to school and I earn only Rs. 150 a day and all of us have
to survive on this meagre income,” she lamented.
addition to land mines grenades also pose a threat to civilians
especially children. Thirteen-year-old Naganathan, a victim of a
grenade explosion still has a piece of shrapnel in his head which
is too dangerous to be removed. Describing the incident he said,
“I was gathering firewood along with another friend when the
accident happened. My friend found the grenade and wanted to get
the explosive out of it. I tried to stop him but he wanted to see
what was inside. The pin would not come out so he smashed it on
the ground. Next there was a loud explosion and I lay unconscious
in a pool of blood. I also lost my left eye.” Loud noises
and the colour of red still frightens Naganathan. His injuries still
give him a lot of pain and he has still not gone back to school
after the incident.
Rowe, the programme manager of Halo Trust, a British humanitarian
mine clearing agency involved in mine-clearing operations in Jaffna
said about 437, 541sq metres of land have been cleared of deadly
mines. He said as soon as the areas are cleared of mines the farmers
block out the lands and start cultivating.
the dangers to villagers themselves clearing the mines he said,
“Some farmers throw the unearthed mines to already cleared
areas and other blocks of land when they de-mine without supervision.
This has posed a problem to our de-mining programme. Some of the
villagers also remove the sticks used to indicate the borders of
demarcated minefields for firewood. “Commenting on their de-mining
programme, Mr. Rowe said about 180, 000 sq metres of land have been
cleared of mines with the aid of machines while agricultural fields
have to be cleared manually as the machines in the process of clearing
mines also dig out the fertile top soil. He said this has proved
to be very time consuming.
Rowe said so far the agency has removed 38,786 anti personnel mines
and 19 anti tank mines from Jaffna. The lack of properly demarcated
maps of the minefields was another problem they faced, he said.
also said that they co-ordinated work and shared information with
the army and a Danish de-mining group. However, he said they get
very little assistance from the LTTE, when it came to demining operations.
“All they do is to inform us to discontinue work when they
organise a hartal in the area. The LTTE mines which are laid in
an ad hoc manner especially near wells and other public places are
hard to detect,” Mr. Rowe said.
also stressed the importance of funding to sustain the de-mining
programme . “For 2005 the European Commission has granted
us Euros 800, 000 which has helped us tremendously,” he said.
Sri Lanka has not signed the Ottawa Treaty that bans anti-personnel
mines nor the Conventional Weapons Convention, which has a protocol
on landmines, foreign organisations are reluctant to fund the de-mining
projects in the country.