Feature Article

Most landmine accidents in Jaffna – UN group

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 11 November 2003, 06:49 GMT]
The United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Colombo said Tuesday that most of the accidents caused by mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) occurred in Jaffna this year. UNDP supported de-mining began in Jaffna seven years ago. Today there are three international de-mining groups active in the peninsula, including one from the US army. The UNDP continues support. A year ago, the region controlled by the Liberation Tigers in the north had much larger and extensive concentrations of mines, minefields and UXOs than Jaffna.

The UN Inter-Agency Working Group said in its report (Durable Solutions Progress Report No. 13 of 10 November 2003): “Mine Action has played a key role in efforts to clear land in the North and East for resettlement and cultivation. In doing so, it supports the redevelopment of infrastructure and improves access to services like electricity, water, hospitals and schools. The success of this work is illustrated by the declining rate of accidents involving mines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs)”.

“This year, four to seven mine/UXO incidents have typically occurred each month, compared to 15 to 20 a month in 2002. Most of these incidents are occurring in Jaffna District”.

The most heavily mined areas of the island lay south of the line of control in Jaffna, in territory controlled by the Liberation Tigers, when the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE signed a ceasefire agreement in February 2001.

The towns of Pallai, Paranthan, Kilinochchi, Mankulam, Mullaithivu, Nedunkerni, Puliyankulam, Kanakarayankulam and large regions such as Elephant Pass and Pooneryn were heavily garrisoned and extensively mined by the Sri Lanka army for years until the Liberation Tigers overran these in 1996, 1998 and 1999/ 2000.

The Humanitarian De-mining Unit of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) began work in these towns and regions from the latter part of 2000 to help resettle tens of thousands of families pushed out by the SLA garrisons. LTTE’s sapper units were also engaged in the task in the initial phase.

Jaffna has few mined areas where the army allowed people to resettle. HALO Trust, Danish De-mining Group, and the US army’s RONCO de-mining group are actively engaged in removing land mines and UXOs in the peninsula, north of the Line Of Control.

The UNDP has a mine action program office in Jaffna to support the ongoing work.

The following is the report of the United Nations Inter-Agency IDP Working Group which meets periodically in Colombo to discuss and co-ordinate responses with Sri Lankan authorities in support of IDP returnees:

IDP MOVEMENTS
Movements of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka have slowed significantly in recent months. In September, 4,486 people moved – a small increase on August, which recorded the smallest number of movements since the ceasefire commenced in February 2002. This situation provides an opportunity to take stock of what has happened to Sri Lanka’s IDP population since the ceasefire.

By the end of September 2003, 331,428 internally displaced persons (IDPs) had moved since the ceasefire began. That is out of a total IDP population estimated at between 613,220 and 800,000

The vast majority of movements in that period occurred within the three northernmost Districts: Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. Within these Districts, there is an overall trend of IDPs heading northwards:

The District with the greatest number of IDPs departing to return (either to other locations within that District or to another District) has been Mullaitivu. Over a third of all IDP movements have begun in Mullaitivu, followed by Kilinochchi (27%) and Jaffna (22%).

Meanwhile, most IDP movements have been to locations within Jaffna District. Around 52% of all IDP movements have ended up in Jaffna, followed by Kilinochchi (20%) and Mullaitivu (11%).

As flagged above, the precise size of the IDP population that existed at the time of the ceasefire is unclear. The Government’s estimate was 800,000. When UNHCR and the Ministry of Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Refugees conducted an IDP census in mid-2002 - after some people had already began to move - 613,220 voluntarily registered as IDPs.

However, using figures on (a) the number of known returnees and (b) the number of IDPs known to be remaining, UNHCR now estimates there were approximately 730,000 IDPs at the time of the ceasefire. This figure suggests that around 45% of all IDPs had moved since the beginning of the ceasefire. It is assumed the vast majority of these people have returned to their places of origin.

That leaves approximately 430,000 people still displaced. Of these, 103,000 – or around one-quarter of those remaining – are living in welfare centres.

UNHCR Representative Neill Wright said the large number of IDPs remaining underlined the critical need for an effective strategy to bridge the gap between relief and development activities, and to invest both in terms of political will and resources in all possible solutions for those displaced. Expanding on the former point, he said that many of the remaining IDPs must await further investment in housing schemes and in the provision of basic utilities, as well as for resolution of the High Security Zone dilemma, either by allowing them to return to their homes, or by offering compensation. On his latter point, he stressed the need for recognition of the right of IDPs who do not own land or property to be relocated in districts of their choice, not just in the district of displacement; and of the right of IDPs to integrate into society in the district of displacement, where that is their preferred solution.

WELFARE CENTRES
In recent months, UNHCR has been conducting a number of informal surveys of IDPs residing in welfare centres. The aim is to assess the needs of these people and to explore why, at this stage, they have not returned home. One such survey, completed in Vavuniya District, identified lack of land as a key obstacle to return. There are many causes of landlessness, including lack of documentation and property disputes (see case study later in this Bulletin). In addition, a significant number of the landless people in the welfare centres in Vavuniya are up-country Tamil families who fled to the Vanni in the 1970s. As well as landlessness, commonly cited reasons for not returning included: concern about children’s safety; not wanting to leave behind family and friends; lack of education facilities in return areas; female head of house; old age, health problems and disabilities; houses or property occupied by the army or police, or located within high security zones; lack of job opportunities in return areas.

RETURNS FROM INDIA
In addition to those displaced within Sri Lanka, there are approximately 80,000 Sri Lankan refugees residing in India. A relatively small number of these refugees have been returning to Sri Lanka, either with the assistance of UNHCR or on their own, usually by boat across the Palk Strait to Mannar Island. By the end of September 2003, UNHCR had assisted 3,955 people to repatriate to Sri Lanka since the ceasefire. A further 1,800 refugees are in the different stages of the UNHCR-facilitated return process.

The number of refugees returning with UNHCR’s assistance has increased significantly in recent months. UNHCR facilitated 521 returns in August and 725 in September, compared to an average 194 per month in the first half of the year. The number of spontaneous returns has also increased noticeably over the past six months.

UNIFIED ASSISTANCE SCHEME
In July, the Government opened the way for more returnee families to obtain financial support by it announcing that it had widened the eligibility criteria for Livelihood Assistance. Livelihood Assistance - a Rs 25,000 cash grant available to families returning home since the ceasefire - was initially unavailable to families who had previously received support under the Unified Assistance Scheme. That restriction has now been removed. According to North East Community Restoration Development project (NECORD), 12,285 families previously ineligible for Livelihood Assistance should now be able to apply.

By 30 September 2003, 39,671 had received Livelihood Assistance since the scheme commenced in February 2003 – a total outlay of more than Rs 990 million. Disbursements fell sharply in September due to liquidity problems – NECORD did not receive funds from central treasury until late in the month – but recovered in October. The program is funded by the World Bank and the Government of the Netherlands.

ADB’S STRATEGY AND PROGRAM FOR 2004-2006
In September, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced its assistance program to Sri Lanka for the next three years, with overall lending set to increase to $700 million from $600 million in 2003-2005. This expansion, the ADB said, was a response to the “increased degree of economic activity arising from the peace process thus far, the needs of reconstruction and development as peace evolves, and the publication of the new government strategy outlining major reforms and a more intensive effort to reduce poverty.” However, the ADB stressed that the program is contingent upon “the continuation of peace and upon progress in project performance.” The ADB cited its principle development challenge as supporting the Government’s efforts for reconstruction and development of the country, particularly through implementing the Government’s reform program to reduce poverty. The ADB’s support will therefore be targeted at pro-poor economic growth. Wherever possible, emphasis will be placed on backward regions or on those facing particular hardship by: improving infrastructure, raising the quality and relevance of education, increasing access of the poor to social services, rebuilding the conflict areas and reintegrating them into the national economy, removing legislative and regulatory barriers to private investment, and promoting enhanced rural livelihoods and commercialization.

UNICEF’S TRANSIT CENTRES
On 3 October, UNICEF opened a transit centre in Kilinochchi for children released from the LTTE. Two more transit centres, one in Batticaloa and another in Trincomalee, will be opened in coming months.

Used in demobilisations in other conflict-affected countries, transit centres provide an initial collection point where the needs of children can be assessed in a non-military environment before they are returned to their families. The longest a child can stay in the centre is three months, although UNICEF expects most children will be returned to their families within a shorter period. The Kilinochchi centre opened with 49 former child soldiers: 27 girls and 22 boys.

The centres are one component of the Action Plan for Children Affected by War. The Action Plan is an outcome of the fifth round of peace talks in Berlin in February, at which the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka asked UNICEF to play a substantial role in establishing shared programs to address the needs of up to 50,000 children affected by war.

Speaking at the opening of the transit centre, UNICEF Representative Ted Chaiban noted that the recruitment of children continues. “It has to be understood that, if the reintegration of child soldiers is to be successful, then new recruitment of children has to stop,” he said. “With the implementation of the Action Plan, we need to see an end to child soldiers in Sri Lanka.”

MINE ACTION
Mine Action has played a key role in efforts to clear land in the North and East for resettlement and cultivation. In doing so, it supports the redevelopment of infrastructure and improves access to services like electricity, water, hospitals and schools. The success of this work is illustrated by the declining rate of accidents involving mines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs). This year, four to seven mine/UXO incidents have typically occurred each month, compared to 15 to 20 a month in 2002. Most of these incidents are occurring in Jaffna District. With the monsoon beginning in the North and East, some agencies are now scaling down operations, with work to resume at full capacity in January. However, limited activities will continue, such as training, reconnaissance and survey, and clearance of areas unaffected by the rains. Mine Action already has District offices in Jaffna and Vavuniya, however UNDP is setting up a number of new offices: An agreement will soon be signed with the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization for the running of the Mine Action office in Kilinochchi; To better coordinate mine action activity and to prepare for more comprehensive clearance activity in the East, a small-scale liaison office is being established at the Trincomalee Government Agent’s office, A further focal office is being planned in Batticaloa

Training of de-mining workers continues in the region. The first batch of Sri Lanka Army personnel trained in Humanitarian de-mining methodology by Ronco have already been deployed in several areas. Norwegian People’s Aid has reached its target of training 600 de-mining personnel, and Danish Demining Group (DDG) is training another group in Jaffna. Meanwhile, HALO Trust will soon start operating its 24-hour rock-crusher machine. The machine, cleared by HALO Trust in the past few months, processes mine and UXO contaminated rubble.

PROPERTY RIGHTS
Upon returning to their homes, many IDPs discover that their land and houses are occupied by other displaced families. Such dilemmas are typical of the sort of problems that can arise once as a consequence of displacement and return. In

May 2003, UNHCR and the Human Rights Commission commissioned a study into the issue, which recommended that the Government and LTTE establish a Commission to resolve such disputes.

Much more work needs to be done to address this issue. In the meantime, progress is being made by both the Government and the LTTE to resolve property disputes, as the following example shows.

In June this year, a Muslim family returned to their home in Kilinochchi in May 2002, only to find another IDP family occupying their land. Some members of the occupant family, whose own land is in a High Security Zone and therefore inaccessible, worked for the LTTE. The Muslim family requested the occupant family to vacate the house, but they refused. So the Muslim family, temporarily staying with their friends from next door, approached UNHCR for assistance. UNHCR was able confirm with both Government officials and the LTTE that the land did in fact belong to the Muslim family. As the LTTE had initially facilitated the occupant family to move into the vacated house, UNHCR approached the LTTE Political Wing to request their assistance to find alternative land for the occupant family. The LTTE said they could find such land, but it would take two months. After further meetings between UNHCR and the LTTE Political Wing, the occupant family moved to new land on 10 September – two months to the day after the initial meeting with the LTTE. The land belongs to two children currently residing in Colombo with their uncle; both the uncle and children agreed, in written form, to the LTTE’s use of the land until the children grow up. For its part, the occupant family agreed in writing that it would vacate the land as soon as its land in the High Security Zone became accessible. UNHCR checked the conditions of the occupant family’s new land and shelter, and decided to provide assistance to put up a shelter.


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