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International Mine Action Day marks achievements and challenges for Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, April 4, 2006 –Sri Lanka will have a lot to be proud of when the country celebrates the first International Mine Action day on April 4 – mine-related casualties have dropped by 75 percent since the ceasefire agreement. But while this achievement is commendable, work still needs to be done to ensure that the country is totally free of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs), UNDP and UNICEF said today.

Mine clearance and educational activities have progressed well in Sri Lanka, which has been identified as one of the most contaminated countries in the world, the agencies say.

Since the ceasefire agreement in 2002, Sri Lanka has undertaken de-mining efforts and supported mine clearance activities, mine risk education, advocacy and assistance to survivors.

Mine Risk Education programmes reached 545,000 people in 2005 alone and mine-related casualties have now dropped from 152 in 2002 to 38 in 2005.

Currently, of the 730 villages around the country that are known to be affected by mines and UXOs, 173 have been cleared and 250 are in the process of being de-mined. The balance 307 will be tasked after technical survey in 2006.

Sri Lanka’s achievements are significant the UN agencies say, but need to be continued so that one day Sri Lanka can be declared entirely mine-free.

“Sri Lanka’s commitment to eliminating all landmines and UXOs and dedicated efforts in undertaking mine risk education programs are paying off,” said UNICEF Representative to Sri Lanka, JoAnna VanGerpen at today’s Government-run event for International Mine Action Day. “Young people are particularly vulnerable to this threat and hundreds of thousands of children and adults are learning about the risks, how to take precautions and what to do if they encounter explosive devices.”

“The positive results are reflected clearly in the reduction of casualties. Momentum now needs to be maintained to finally eliminate these remnants of war and make sure that these weapons are never used in Sri Lanka again.”

April 4 has been designated International Mine Action Day by the United Nations General Assembly in a bid to keep issues surrounding landmines and UXOs high on the world agenda and advocate for the continued action of States and other involved parties in eliminating the many threats that these weapons pose. Sri Lanka will be one of 29 mine-affected countries holding events worldwide.

UNDP Resident Representative a.i., Ms Beate Trankmann, emphasized that de-mining requires constant and dedicated work, and saw an opportunity in this first International Mine Action Day to recognize the significant progress that Sri Lanka has made in clearing landmines and UXOs.

“It is also about looking at a future when Sri Lanka is free of landmines. As a next step, the Sri Lankan parties should ratify the relevant international treaties and agreements that ban further use of landmines.

“In line with recent pronouncements by the Government of Sri Lanka, we would welcome Sri Lanka becoming a signatory to the Ottawa Treaty in the near future.”

Government, NGOs and UN agencies marked April 4 International Mine Action Day with activities around the country, including the Government-organised event in Colombo. Regional events included a football match and bicycle race in Trincomalee, sports and cultural events in Vavuniya, drama presentations in Ampara, a mine action exhibition in Jaffna, the screening of mine action films in Kilinochchi and essay and poem writing activities in Batticaloa.

For more information, please contact:

Junko Mitani, Communications Officer, UNICEF Colombo, 077416742

Leanne Mitchell, Communication Officer, UNICEF Colombo, 0773166517

Ramesha Balasuriya, Communications Associate, UNDP Colombo, 0777 563 580



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