The issue of clearing anti-personnel mines planted by the LTTE, the Sri Lankan army (SLA) and even the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) is fast becoming a diplomatic minefield for President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Rajapaksa is under intense international pressure to hasten the process of resettlement of the displaced Tamils; the UN and US are pressurising it to send the refugees back home and the UK has called for a cut in international aid till resettlement picked up pace.
The demining process includes initial assessments of the land where mines may have been planted, technical surveys of minefields, clearing of mines and the destruction of unexploded ordinance.
The Indian MPs from Tamil Nadu — unusually quiet during the four-day visit to Sri Lanka that ended on Wednesday — are now talking about severe shortages of milk, food and drinking water in the camps that still house about 2.4 to 2.5 lakh displaced Tamils.
On Thursday, Rajapaksa said the pace of resettled would depend on the completion of the demining process.
“Large areas where people lived or used for economic activity... have been extensively mined... but demining takes time...’’ Rajapaksa said at the 8th Ministerial Meeting of the Asian Cooperation Dialogue in Colombo on Thursday.
But not everyone believes the government’s claims. Suresh Premachandran, MP from the Tamil National Alliance, told the visiting Indian Tamil MPs that government was using demining as an excuse for delaying resettlement.
Demining had taken place only in 32 villages in Mannar and Vavuniya districts. The process of demining had not even started in the two former LTTE strongholds —Killinochchi and Mullaitivu.
Diplomatic sources, on condition of anonymity, said the situation gets complex because the authorities have some idea where LTTE, and even IPKF, mines are, but there is no mapping of the mines that the SLA had planted.