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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
09COLOMBO572
2009-05-29 08:50:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Colombo
Cable title:  

DEMINNG SRI LANKA'S NORTH - IMPRESSIONS FROM THE FIELD

Tags:   EAID  PREF  PGOV  PHUM  CE 
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VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLM #0572/01 1490850
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 290850Z MAY 09
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0051
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 6957
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 3866
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 3089
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 8723
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 1711
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 3567
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 1223
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI//J3/J332/J52//
RHMFIUU/CDRUSARPAC FT SHAFTER HI//APCW/APOP//
						UNCLAS COLOMBO 000572 

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB, PRM, PM/WRA
STATE ALSO PASS TO USAID
AID/W FOR ANE/SCA
AID/W FOR DCHA/FFP FOR JDWORKEN, JBORNS
AID/W FOR DCHA/OFDA FOR ACONVERY, RTHAYER AND RKERR
BANGKOK FOR USAID/DCHA/OFDA WBERGER
KATHMANDU FOR USAID/DCHA/OFDA MROGERS AND POL SBERRY
USMISSION GENEVA FOR NKYLOH
USUN FOR ECOSOC DMERCADO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID PREF PGOV PHUM CE
SUBJECT: DEMINNG SRI LANKA'S NORTH - IMPRESSIONS FROM THE FIELD



1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) recently
decided to begin de-mining operations in the Manthai West Division
of Mannar District, one of five districts in the Northern Province
and the scene of heavy fighting last year, when Government forces
pushed the LTTE northward into the Vanni. Manthai West Division
includes the Rice Bowl - an area of more than 120 square kilometers
that, because of its fertility and extensive irrigation system, has
traditionally been a major rice producer. For the Rice Bowl, in
April, the GSL's Ministry of Nation Building issued de-mining task
orders to the Sri Lankan Army (SLA), which has a de-mining unit, and
to four international NGOs - Horizon (Indian), Sarvatra (Indian),
Mine Action Group (MAG--British), and Fondation Suisse de Deminage
(FSD--Swiss). On May 18-22, a USAID/Sri Lanka official traveled to
Mannar District to observe the commencement of Rice Bowl operations
by MAG and FSD. He also traveled to another division in Mannar -
Musalli - to see ongoing de-mining operations of FSD and to talk to
the first group of returnees in Sri Lanka's North, since the winding
down of the conflict. End SUMMARY.

The Rice Bowl


--------------------------





2. (SBU) Mannar District's Manthai West Division once had over 90
villages and hamlets, sprinkled over an area covering approximately
500 square kilometers. It is an area of fertile paddy fields,
irrigated by a system of 153 major and minor tanks (reservoirs) and
canals. Fishing is the second most important livelihood. According
to provincial government records, over 26,000 people lived in the
division in 2007.



3. (SBU) For many years, a forward defense line bifurcated the
division, separating government and LTTE forces. The forward
defense line was heavily mined by the SLA. The LTTE also mined a
series of defensive earthworks. In late 2007 and 2008, the SLA and
LTTE engaged in fierce battles, as Government forces slowly pushed
the rebels northward through the Manthai Division of Mannar
District. As Government forces moved north and eventually eastward,
civilians fled their villages, withdrawing with the LTTE until, by
2009, they were amassed in a final conflict zone along the coast of
the District of Mullaitivu. Completely depopulated except for
soldiers of the SLA, no livelihood activities have taken place in
Manthai West and the Rice Bowl for more than one year. Paddy fields
are overgrown with weeds, and there is extensive infrastructure
destruction, including damaged tank bunds (earthen dams)and canals.
FSD estimates that, until initial assessments are conducted, 86
square kilometers of Manthai West - including large sections of the

Rice Bowl, the main north-south road in the division, and areas in
the eastern sector -- should be considered high risk for mine
contamination.



4. (SBU) As the conflict entered its final phase in April along the
northeastern coast of the country (Mullaitivu District), the GSL
decided to begin returning displaced persons to their homes along
the northwestern coast (Mannar District), once security and other
conditions permitted. A small number of families returned to Mannar
District's Musalli Division at the end of April, after three
de-mining NGOs completed task orders for 13 of 15 coastal villages.
Apparently eager to show the international community that it is
serious about returns, the GSL next issued task orders for de-mining
to take place in Manthai West, which is an area of economic
importance and home to approximately ten percent of the current IDP
population from the Vanni. According to plans, half the Rice Bowl
area is to be de-mined by the SLA, with de-mining NGOs ("agencies")
given the other half.

Lack of Information on Minefields


--------------------------





5. (SBU) The SLA has cleared some access roads into Manthai West,
but many remain un-cleared and are therefore "no-go." Neither MAG
nor FSD have been able to see any SLA minefield maps. Since the SLA
rotates soldiers every six months out of assigned areas, the current
army contingent assigned to the Rice Bowl has no first-hand
knowledge of SLA mining. Nonetheless, some minefields are known, or
easily deducible (for example, along the northern side of the
forward defense line). When it comes to LTTE minefields,
information is provided by soldiers who have come across mines, but
otherwise little is known. Over the past year, tens of soldiers
have been injured in Manthai West, making them reluctant to stray
off known cleared paths. Besides strategically placing mines to
slow advancing troops, the LTTE is known to have randomly laid small
clusters of "nuisance mines," making minefield detection all the
more difficult. To assist with the initial assessment process,
de-mining agencies hope eventually to have access to IDPs -- now in
camps -- who used to live in former LTTE-controlled territory.
Otherwise, the only information about the location of LTTE mines
appears anecdotal, supplied by soldiers who find UXO or come across
mines during their patrols.

MAG and FSD Operations


--------------------------





6. (SBU) Without special permission from the Ministry of Defense
and army commanders on the ground, civilians are not allowed beyond
a checkpoint just north of the former forward defense line. This is
due to the presence of mines, as well as to concerns by the GSL that
remnants of terrorist cells remain.



7. (SBU) On May 18 -22, a USAID/Sri Lanka official visited two
de-mining agencies' operations in Mannar District - those of MAG and
FSD. Of the four agencies issued task orders for the Rice Bowl,
only MAG has commenced operations, having been on the ground for
nine days at the time of the USAID visit. FSD will have its
demining team in place by the end of May.



8. (SBU) After a safety briefing on site, the USAID official walked
and drove the perimeter of much of the ten-square kilometer sector
allocated by task order to MAG. He observed use of MAG's flail
machine, which loosens the terrain to a depth of fifteen
centimeters, followed by manual deminers who inspect the churned-up
trail. He also observed manual de-mining - a painstaking task
whereby each deminer clips vegetation and meticulously rakes and
inspects the soil.



9. (SBU) With the MAG field operations manager, he visited the
village of Palaikulai, containing 385 houses where 1,540 people once
lived. This area was primarily for paddy cultivation and livestock.
At present, there is evidence of old paddy fields, but no
livestock. Houses and public buildings are mostly destroyed.



10. (SBU) In its first nine days of operations in the Rice Bowl,
MAG had covered 5,314 square meters by machine and a ten-man manual
demining team, finding one Claymore mine, one 8 mm mine, and various
UXO. MAG is using one flail machine alongside a ten-man team. At
its current asset level (73 employees split between Rice Bowl and
ongoing tasks in Batticaloa District), MAG will need several weeks
to clear part of Palaikulai village. If additional funding and work
is forthcoming, MAG is ready to work up estimates for expanding
operations by hiring more deminers and rocuring additional flail
machines (estimated at$400,000 new).



11. (SBU) The following day, th USAID official returned to the
Rice Bowl, this ime with the FSD field operations manager. They
walked and drove the perimeter of much of the six-kilometer square
area tasked to FSD. Using an expensive ($25,000 each) laser-guided
binocular, they were able to spot a mine at the edge of a rice
paddy, along a former LTTE defensive bund, and see how MAG uses
high-tech to map important landmarks of the area assessed. As part
of its standard, demining dossier, MAG uses GPS mapping to plot the
location and condition of roads, wells, tank bunds, houses, schools,
hospitals, and other infrastructure. This mapping should prove
invaluable to Government and donor organizations as they assess the
need for reconstruction and rehabilitation of infrastructure, in
support of a GSL returns/resettlement strategy.

Visit to Musalli Division


--------------------------





12. (SBU) After visiting the Rice Bowl, the USAID official and FSD
field operations manager visited the Musalli Division to see
first-hand ongoing de-mining operations and to get a sense of the
progress made by the 107 families that had been returned to
Saverurpuram Village with fanfare on April 30th. FSD, under great
pressure from the Mannar Government Agent, hopes to have its last
Musalli Division village de-mined by the end of July. FSD de-mining
operations followed strict protocols, with a focus on houses and
other landowner property (latrines, wells). FSD's de-mining
operation for Saverurpuram village covers three sectors, including a
former LTTE Sea Tigers launching base that will provide access for
this fishing village to the sea.



13. (SBU) With no evidence of fighting (as opposed to heavy
fighting and destruction in the Rice Bowl), the general condition of
houses and public buildings in Musalli Division is good. The USAID
official was able to talk with a number of officials and resettled
IDPs about the challenges they face, including potable water, health
issues (scabies and respiratory illness), malnutrition, the need for
teachers and school furniture and supplies, and limited access (for
security reasons) by fishermen to the sea.

De-Mining and the Way Forward


--------------------------





14. (SBU) The GSL has not released a de-mining strategy for the
North. Rather, de-mining tasks have been issued in a piecemeal
fashion. After three de-mining agencies were issued task orders for
15 coastal villages (only two of which were found to be
contaminated) in Musalli Division, the GSL decided to issue task
orders for the Rice Bowl of Manthai West Division.



15. (SBU) De-mining agencies prefer to have enough work so that
they can work in areas simultaneously in multiple stages. In the
first stage, they do a general mine action assessment -- with the
help of the local population -- to determine areas that can be
declared "low risk" and safe for re-settlement/returns. If there is
evidence of possible mine or UXO contamination, the agencies conduct
a technical survey that enables them to narrow down and demarcate
the presence of minefields and UXO. The demarcated areas can then
be cleared, or put aside for later clearance, while the agencies
continue the assessment and technical survey stages in other
locations, thereby identifying and certifying additional area as low
risk for re-settlement.



16. (SBU) A de-mining strategy for the North should actually be a
sub-set of an overall returns strategy for the North. However, the
GSL has so far been reluctant to disclose its plans concerning the
locations, timing, and numbers of IDPs it expects to return.
Without a returns strategy, and a concurrent de-mining strategy,
progress will continue to be piecemeal. Without a strategy, it is
harder for donors to program resources and impossible for demining
agencies to work faster and more efficiently (hiring more staff,
obtaining more capital assets).

One Possible Scenario for the Rice Bowl


--------------------------





17. (SBU) As an exercise to support resettlement/returns, FSD
developed a rough estimate of the time and cost to de-mine the
entire Manthai West Division. Using assumptions of increased
manpower (demining teams) and capital equipment (more flail machines
and other customized equipment that would expedite the technical
survey process), FSD estimates that it would take 12 months to cover
the entire division. Depending on the level of contamination
discovered, one scenario (2.5 percent contamination) would cost
approximately $9 million, and a second scenario (5 percent
contamination) would cost approximately $15 million.



18. CONCLUSIONS

-- Both MAG and FSD would like to expand their de-mining operations
to be able to increase productivity and to "work ahead" by
conducting assessments and technical surveys to identify low-risk
areas where people can return immediately, even as the much slower
mine clearing operations are taking place in other areas.

-- To expand operations will require better planning, including a
returns strategy and a supporting de-mining strategy on the part of
the GSL, as well as significant donor resources.

-- Given the random mining by the LTTE in the North and the overall
lack of information about minefields, well-funded de-mining
operations may still take 3 - 5 years before most IDPs are able to
return home. This makes it all the more imperative that the
Government articulate a returns/resettlement policy/strategy,
against which de-mining agencies can prepare work plans and donors
can justify funding levels.

-- If the Rice Bowl is an indicator, much of the infrastructure of
the North appears to have been destroyed. With their first access
to restricted areas, de-mining agencies have an excellent
perspective on reconstruction needs, which planners and funders can
use to develop localized returns activities and to allocate
resources. As part of its de-mining task order dossiers, FSD
already constructs accurate maps of roads, houses and public
building, as well as paddy fields, tanks, and other livelihoods
locations. MAG is willing to do the same.

-- De-mining operations will be expensive. However, the
opportunity cost of not accelerating de-mining and investing more
funds is the ongoing provision of costly relief assistance (such as
food aid) to IDPs in camps.

MOORE