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Cablegate: Sri Lanka: Army's U.S.-Funded Humanitarian

VZCZCXRO6345
PP RUEHBI
DE RUEHLM #1140/01 1931042
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 121042Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3822
INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 9780
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 6203
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 4238
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 9309
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 3170
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 2248
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 3084
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 6753
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 4628
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1247

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 001140

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PTER PHUM MOPS CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: ARMY'S U.S.-FUNDED HUMANITARIAN
DEMINING PROGRAM A CONFIDENCE BUILDING MEASURE

1. (SBU) Summary. The Sri Lanka Army's (SLA) U.S.-sponsored
humanitarian demining program, begun after the Government of
Sri Lanka (GSL) and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
signed a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in February 2002, has
lately hit snags which bring into question the program's
viability in a no peace, no war environment. Low-level LTTE
and paramilitary attacks on Sri Lanka military targets and
each other have led to suspension of work at sites in the
North and East, and mine detection dogs (MDD) have failed to
uncover live mines in areas being cleared for civilian
resettlement. Nevertheless, representatives from the U.S.
government contracting organization RONCO deem the SLA's
humanitarian demining program a crucial confidence-building
measure that will falter without continued U.S. government
funding and support. End summary.

Returning Land to Civilians
---------------------------------

2. (SBU) The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) specializes its
humanitarian clearance activities in low-density mine fields,
which it prepares for civilian resettlement. Since 2002,
US-funded contractor RONCO has trained 600 deminers and mine
detection dog (MDD) handlers within the SLA and overseas
clearance activities at sites throughout the island. As
these soldiers rotate, approximately 40 soldiers work on
demining sites at any given time. The Marshall Legacy
Foundation donated 12 MMD to the SLA.

3. (SBU) Violence and low-level military engagement between
the LTTE and security forces has increased in two phases
since the November 2005 Presidential election which brought
former Prime Minister Rajapaksa to power, with a lull in
March 2006 following ceasefire talks between the two parties
in Geneva in February. The unstable situation caused the
suspension of demining sites throughout the north and east
through much of this period. Because military vehicles have
been repeat targets of LTTE claymore and shelling attacks,
moving demining teams near north-central Vavuniya, in
particular, presents a security risk. RONCO Deputy Sri Lanka
program manager Mike Walsh told poloff June 29 that demining
activities in Jaffna and some areas of Trincomalee district
were unaffected by increased security concerns because of the
presence of military-controlled High Security Zones (HSZ),
which allowed demining equipment and personnel to be moved
freely.

4. (SBU) Sri Lanka's national humanitarian demining program
"will always be semi-military," RONCO technical advisor Craig
Crosby explained to poloff July 6, "because they can't put
Sinhalese civilians in Tamil areas or they'll become a
target" of the LTTE. He added that the SLA, with the
assistance of RONCO, facilitates 70% of humanitarian demining
work in the north of the island, because international
demining agencies also use them as a liaison to work in areas
with a heavy military presence.


Disoriented Dogs
--------------------

5. (SBU) RONCO technical advisor Craig Crosby described to
poloff on July 6 an incident in which mine detection dogs
(MDD) overlooked two live mines in a low-density field near
Trincomalee. The area had been deemed mine-free and ready to
be returned for civilian repopulation when manual de-miners
discovered the two mine with rakes. The entire minefield had
to be reworked manually after the dogs failed. However, 8 of
12 dogs were reaccredited in a UN-observed test July 11, with
100 percent detection of mines up to 6 centimeters. The dogs
will be trained to detect mines up to 15cm within three
weeks.

6. (SBU) K-9 Consultant Dan Hayter explained to poloff on
July 6 that the MDD's mistakes were not surprising given
their lack of experience in live mine fields. The security
situation has kept them primarily at the SLA's training

COLOMBO 00001140 002 OF 002


facility in the southern area of Embilipitiya: "The dogs have
learned short cuts, like humans do. They pick up the odor
from the person handling the mine, or the scent of freshly
dug soil rather than the explosive material."

7. (SBU) Hayter felt sure that if the dogs could get back in
the field, the dogs would rise to the occasion and their
handlers would gain the confidence to read when the dogs were
having an off day. While international NGOs tend to work in
high-density mine areas and therefore have "strong numbers"
in terms of the number of mines recovered, the SLA focuses on
low-density areas. Added Crosby, "the figures don't reflect
the real value of what (the SLA deminers) are doing." These
low-density areas, Hayter explained, are "suspect" areas near
other mine fields which must be completely clean before they
can be turned over to civilian populations, but make
difficult work for "starting-level" dogs. Hayter stressed
that all the assets, including the MDD, handlers, deminers
and brush clearance equipment, must be on the field for the
humanitarian demining program to be a success.

Rallying for the SLA
--------------------------

8. (SBU) Clearly passionate about Sri Lanka's demining
program, Crosby argued to poloff on July 6 that the SLA's
humanitarian demining program "is absolutely critical to the
national plan" as a "functioning structure" within the
military with "all the ingredients for a sustainable,
world-class clearing body." There had been miscommunication
and mistakes made within the military, he lamented -- such as
newly-trained deminers or dog handlers being rotated to other
jobs soon after completion of training -- adding it could
take as many as twenty years for humanitarian demining to
become a manageable national program. With RONCO likely
pulling out in December 2006, and international NGOs such as
HALO and the Danish Demining Group (DDG) expecting to pull
out by 2008 according to the UNDP Mine Action Office, the SLA
will be the only remaining -- but severely underfunded --
humanitarian demining body in Sri Lanka.

9. (SBU) Crosby noted that Sri Lanka's biggest humanitarian
demining resource is manpower within a poor country that
without assistance is unlikely to allocate limited resources
to humanitarian demining. He argued, "If the Department of
State pulls out all funding now, everything we've done here
will disappear because they can't sustain it operationally
yet." But the program is crucial: "This is the military
assisting with the national capacity, rebuilding Sri Lanka,
and correcting its own mistakes." On July 11 Crosby told
poloff he had called on SLA humanitarian demining liaison
Brigadier A.W.J.C. de Silva on July 7 to inform him the GSL
demining program is "in a critical phase." According to
Crosby, Brigadier de Silva spoke with Defense Secretary
Gothabaya Rajapaksa on the evening of July 7 to express his
commitment to keeping the program viable.

Comment
------------

10. (SBU) Comment: Despite the understandable bias of our
contracting organization, Crosby makes valid points about the
sustainability of a GSL humanitarian demining program in a
resource-poor country. Dan Hayter's unbiased assessment of
the MDD is also reassuring. SLA humanitarian demining
represents a confidence building measure similar to the
others we have been recommending to the GSL. It is vital
that USG funding of this program continue as a key element of
the U.S. commitment to the peace process here. End comment.
ENTWISTLE

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