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Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 13:21 GMT
Sri Lanka's deadly peace harvest
A disused military helmet rests on a pole
Disused helmets and flak jackets are left in the fields

Lying in Mallavi hospital in Sri Lanka and with only one leg, Selliah Marimuththu, is one of the latest victims of peace on the island.

A 46 year-old farmer and father of six children, Selliah said: "I knew there had been heavy fighting in that area but they had cut the barbed wire there so I thought it was safe and I didn't realise it was mined."
I remember I felt something and then I realised my leg was gone...

Selliah - Mine victim

"It all depends on your luck," said Selliah, "because there are mines all over and you can't really know where they are."

Selliah was collecting barbed wire to fence off his land in Iyakkachchi, near Elephant Pass.

He saw tyre tracks from vehicles near the fencing and assumed it was safe to walk in the area.

Medical camp in Sri lanka
Many people have suffered injuries
He explained: "I remember I felt something and then I realised my leg was gone and I sent my 13 year-old son who was with me to get help."

Ten months of ceasefire have led to a massive movement of people in areas that were former frontlines.

The United Nations says more than 200,000 refugees have spontaneously returned home in the last year.

That has meant many people have returned to areas that are still heavily mined.


It will be between three and six months before Selliah Marimuththu's amputation wound heals sufficiently to fit an artificial leg.

Even then, he faces an uncertain future.

"Up to now I have at least managed to live. From now on, I don't know. It's pretty sad," he said.

He says he simply had no choice but to live in an area which was risky.
We just have no place to go...

Mr and Mrs Sinnathamby

It is not difficult to find people living amidst the landscape of war in rebel-controlled northern Sri Lanka.

Families bathe their children in ammunition cases and store their pitiful belongings in discarded mortar cases in the ruins of their former homes.

Some live next to minefields where skeletons remain scattered along with the debris of war - helmets and rotting flak jackets.

No home

Mrs and Mrs Karthigesu Sinnathamby shelter in the Mallvil Krishnar Hindu temple in Iyakkachchi.

Their house is destroyed and they have nowhere else to go.

On the floor of the temple there is a small conical metal device. It is the unexploded head of a rocket propelled grenade.
Shells left in a Sri Lankan field
Unexploded shells are often left in open fields

If it was accidentally touched it could blow up but Mr and Mrs Sinnathamby and the worshippers who use the temple have no idea of the danger they are in.

"We don't know anything about that; we just have no place to go," they say. "People who come from outside, like you, know but how do we know?"

Huge task

They say three quarters of the inhabitants of the area have already returned because of the peace process but they are still not sure whether all the mine fields in the area have been sign-posted yet.

Work has started on mapping the area and de-mining but it is a mammoth task and cannot keep pace with the movement of returning refugees.

"It surprised me - the rate that people are returning," said Don MacDonald of the British charity Mine Action Group.

He added: "I think perhaps eight or nine months ago there weren't that many people."

Mine Action Group is working to train a group of rebel de-miners, many of whom were injured themselves before they volunteered to do this dangerous work.

"My own interpreter lost a leg to a mine when he was ten years old," said Mr MacDonald who added that there was a lot of job satisfaction in this kind of work.

The BBC's Frances Harrison
"Demining Sri Lanka is a mammoth task"

Peace efforts




See also:

07 Jan 03 | South Asia
06 Jan 03 | South Asia
01 Jan 03 | South Asia
30 Dec 02 | South Asia
26 Dec 02 | South Asia
05 Dec 02 | South Asia
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