Australian aid for landmine clearance

Australia is to spend an extra $1.5 million on landmine clearance in Sri Lanka and $3.5 million to promote the countryís recovery from the long civil war.

Parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs Bruce Billson said 20 years of civil conflict has devastated much of Sri Lanka, claiming more than 64,000 lives and leaving a deadly legacy of some 700,000 landmines.

Billson, who is visiting Sri Lanka on the way to attend the Nairobi Summit on a Mine Free World, said those mines were still claiming lives and contaminating farmlands and roads.

"This latest Australian mine action funding will be channelled through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD)," he said in a statement.

"Clearance operations and mine surveying conducted by FSD will receive $1 million which will also assist in assessing the impact of mines on local communities."

Billson said the UNDPís Mine Action Program would receive $550,000 to help Sri Lanka develop local skills to manage a mine action program.

Australia will also provide funds for three UNDP Mine Action field offices to help ensure the effectiveness of local surveying and mine removal operations.

Billson said the support of Australia and other donors had seen the number of mine-related incidents fall from up to 20 a month immediately after the ceasefire in 2002 to about seven a month.

He said Australia had supported the clearance of 6,656 anti-personnel landmines from more than 227,000 square metres of land, the equivalent of 35 soccer fields.

Billson said Australia would also provide $2.5 million to the United Nations Childrenís Fund to rebuild schools and provide catch-up education for conflict-affected children and also help young landmine victims resume their studies.

Another $1 million will go to the UN Development Program, which aims to significantly enhance local living standards by funding the construction of irrigation channels and roads to improve agricultural production and market access.

"The humanitarian funding will provide an important boost to the economies of the conflict-affected east coast districts of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara," he said.


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