After the sea terror, the landmine horror
By Chris Kamalendran
The Government and the LTTE have issued warnings to people in the tsunami-devastated north and east to take necessary precautions to protect them from hundreds of landmines, which are believed to have been uprooted and carried to residential areas by Sunday's terror waves.

The Divisional Secretariat office at Kuchchaveli in the Trincomalee district has been shifted to the Nilaweli Pradeshiya Sabha premises after protests from residents who fear that mines planted to protect a nearby army camp might have surfaced and been carried to civilian areas.

In the highly-populated eastern Kalladi area, according to a government release, about 51 landmines have been detected and defused by the Army. Some 65 families in Kalladi have been warned not to return to their houses until the area is cleared of mines and declared safe.

Swept-away mines have also been found in some LTTE-controlled areas which had been cleared of landmines by the international demining teams and the LTTE's eastern leader, Kaushalyan, has issued a warning to the people, asking them to take necessary precautions.

The Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) appealed to other relief organizations not to be daunted by the mine threat and not to delay relief coming to the most needed areas.

In the wake of the new danger facing the survivors of the worst-ever catastrophe to hit the nation, international landmine clearing teams have sent out messages to their staff, who have gone on holiday, to return immediately to Sri Lanka to tackle the new threat.

The UK-based Mine Advisory Group, which is involved in mine-clearing work in the Batticaloa district, said it was working closely with the army to detect the mines that were washed away to civilian areas.

"We are visiting centres, where the displaced people are housed, and conducing awareness campaigns about the possible mine threat. We are distributing leaflets and making loud-hailer announcements, warning the public of the threat," a spokesman for the organisation said.

He said they were planning to visit Kalkudah camp to make an assessment of the threat. Additional Government Agent for Trincomalee, N. Singarayar said an urgent meeting was convened on Thursday night and Danish mine experts who attended the meeting had assured that they would undertake urgent demining work before allowing the residents to return to their homes.

Mr. Singarayar said Padavi-Sripura, Kuchchaveli and Sampur had been identified as areas where the mine threat loomed large. Jaffna Government Agent Chelliah Pathmanathan said Velvettithurai West, Thaliyady, Marathankerny, Manalkadu, Chempianpattu and parts of Thenmarachchi were danger areas where mines have been dislodged.

He said the mine threat had impeded relief operations, but the Army and the LTTE were extending their fullest cooperation to eliminate the danger and facilitate relief work.

The UNDP,one of the organisations funding the demining programme, told The Sunday Times it had sought a report from its field officers on the mine threat. The mine threat has caused ripples in the already-devastated and shaken tourism industry. Tourist Board Chairman Udaya Nanayakkara accused some foreign media of blowing up the threat. He said he had received no reports that mines have been detected in tourism areas in the east.

"I am not saying that there is no risk of land mines in the east. But some reports have given an impression that these land mines are in tourist areas and that foreigners face a high degree of risk," he said.The Ministry of Relief, Rehabilitation & Reconciliation in a statement said not many landmines had been dislodged but gave details of places where mines had been detected.

It said only around fifty-one land mines had been found outside the Army Camp in Kallady and action had been taken to protect civilians.

The statement, however, said a few mines had been washed away in the Batticaloa, Jaffna and Mullaitivu Districts. In Batticaloa, the areas surrounding the Army camps in Kallady and Kalkudah are said to be potential shift areas.

In Jaffna, two mines are said to have shifted near the Point Pedro area. The UNDP Technical Advisor for the area, however, had reportedly said that there is no more danger of mines shifting. In the Mullaitivu District mines have reportedly shifted in two more remote unpopulated areas.

The Ministry statement also said that the government which managed the Mine Action Programme had taken action to prevent mine accidents.

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