Sri Lanka to step up mine clearing: army

August 20, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s military is to send more troops to clear land mines in areas recently wrested from Tamil rebel control so that civilians can return to their homes, the top army officer said Thursday. Jayasuriya said his aim was to support a massive reconstruction effort in areas once held by Tiger separatists.

Government forces declared victory over Tamil Tiger rebels in March after wiping out the entire leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which took up arms in 1972 to fight for a separate Tamil homeland. “I have already sent 400 engineering troops for de-mining and I am sending more battalions to be trained in ‘humanitarian de-mining’,” Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya told reporters after a ceremony at the Armoured Corp headquarters in Colombo.

The army chief, who took over the 200,000-strong forces in July, said he also planned to deploy heavy equipment to clear vast mine-fields in the Wanni region where the final battles with the Tamil Tigers were fought.

Jayasuriya said the military did not have a precise estimate for the number of mines planted by the defeated Tamil Tiger guerrillas, but ground troops had encountered extensive mine fields during the