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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 February, 2003, 12:47 GMT
Sri Lanka mines take toll
By Frances Harrison
BBC Sri Lanka correspondent

A disused military helmet rests on a pole
Many former conflict areas pose danger
Landmines and unexploded ordnance in Sri Lanka have killed 26 civilians and injured 100 others since a cease-fire came into effect a year ago, the United Nations says.

The majority of those hurt are adult males - breadwinners for their families.

The number of injuries is likely to rise as more of Sri Lanka's refugees move home into areas that have not yet been cleared.

There may have been no fighting for a year but the UN says the number of casualties from landmine accidents has remained constant.

It is mostly when men search for firewood or return to abandoned homes and start doing repair work that disaster strikes.

Children at risk

Since the UN started keeping records from 1996 nearly 1,000 people have been killed or injured by mines - and that does not include soldiers and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Shells left in a Sri Lankan field
Unexploded shells are often left in open fields
About a quarter of all casualties have been children who tend to be hurt by unexploded ordnance rather than caught in a minefield.

That is because commonly at least 15% of ammunition will fail to explode in battle and is then randomly scattered.

In many cases children play with the ordnance not knowing the dangers.

About half of all recorded injuries or deaths have taken place in the Jaffna peninsula - and a large number of those in the areas north of Chavakachcheri where there was heavy fighting and both sides used mines to fortify their shifting forward defence lines.

Mine database

Overall, the UN says, in Sri Lanka as in many other countries, the army has been the biggest user of landmines because of a conventional force's need to defend positions against a more mobile guerrilla outfit.

The UN is now collating information from Sri Lankan army maps, de-mining groups and reported mine accidents to build up a database of the location of minefields.

But even now, nobody knows how many mines may lie hidden under the ground.

Estimates vary from nearly one million to three million.



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