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Canada Supports Sri Lanka's Peace-Building Efforts

by Mike Fryer | @MAGsaveslives | MAG (Mines Advisory Group)
Thursday, 17 December 2015 15:48 GMT

A MAG demining team in Mannar District, with Minister Samaraweera [third from the left] and High Commissioner Whiting [fifth from the right], who observed demining activities.

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Canadian Government continues to support efforts to rid the country of landmines in villages ravaged by years of Sri Lankan civil war. An effort with an end in sight.

The Government is providing CAD850,000 in 2015-2016 to non-governmental organization Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to keep thousands of men, women and children safe from the mines and unexploded bombs that continue to litter the land six years after the end of the country's long conflict

Speaking from a minefield in the northern district of Mannar today, the High Commissioner of Canada to Sri Lanka and Maldives, H.E. Shelley Whiting said: "The demining activities that we had the honour of seeing today underscored for me the critical importance of demining work in Sri Lanka.

"Clearance of landmines is a necessary precursor to peace and security for all Sri Lankans and is a key component of Sri Lanka's broader plans for reconciliation and resettlement. Canada's support to MAG is playing an important role in helping Sri Lanka meet its objective of being mine-impact free by 2020. Seeing MAG's work today and noting the level of strong and constructive coordination with government at all levels, I am confident that this objective will be met."

These deadly remnants of war prevent farmers from being able to use their land, restrict access to water sources, and hinder resettlement plans for thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were forced to flee during periods of prolonged fighting.

With continued international support, MAG anticipates that the entire country can be free from the impact of mines by 2020.

Speaking today, MAG Sri Lanka Country Director Alistair Moir said: "Sri Lanka remains a country where MAG removes a staggering amount of landmines. Each one that is removed brings greater safety and less fear for families whoíd been living with the daily threat of death and injury. Safe land means people can move around freely and use farmland, which has such a sustained and positive impact on their lives and livelihoods.

"This is the tangible nature of our work, and we very much look forward to the Government of Sri Lanka declaring a status of 'mine impact free' before 2020. Canadian funds have been and remain vital in achieving this."

During 2015, MAG removed 8,776 landmines and unexploded bombs in Sri Lanka. In addition, more than 25 million square metres of land has been released in 2015 - either cleared of danger or deemed to be safe following survey - enabling thousands of people to rebuild their lives.

High Commissioner Whiting added: "Canada's support builds on the significant work already undertaken in mine clearing in the country by the Government of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan army and international demining organizations such as MAG.

"The devastating impact of landmines on civilians is without question. It is my hope that the considerable work undertaken by the Government of Sri Lanka with the support of partners such as Canada, will save lives, facilitate returns and lead to eventual accession by Sri Lanka of relevant international treaties aimed at bringing an end to the use of these indiscriminate weapons."


Sri Lanka's 25-year civil war left large areas of the Northern and Eastern Provinces heavily contaminated by mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Following the end of the conflict in 2009, this became a major impediment to the resettlement of thousands of IDPs and was identified as the main priority of the Government of Sri Lanka during the post-war period.

Mine action agencies, including MAG, were tasked to use all available resources to clear residential areas and their immediate surroundings in order to facilitate safe returns.

By the end of 2012, a total of 467,553 IDPs had come back to the north and east. As the returning population grew, however, people set up home beyond areas that were cleared during the emergency response, in close proximity to hazardous areas.

Now classified as high priority for mine and UXO clearance, these sites include vast areas of agricultural and forested land, on which the majority of returnees are dependent for food, firewood and building materials.

Sri Lanka now considers itself to be in the final phase of demining and significant progress has been made. It is important that momentum continues, and the support for international agencies over the next two years will be critical.