Cablegate: U.S.-Sponsored Humanitarian Demining Training

Published: Tue 26 Aug 2003 10:24 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: U.S.-sponsored humanitarian demining training
program kicks off at military base in south
Refs: (A) Colombo-PM/HDP 08/25/03 class e-mail
- (B) Colombo 1430, and previous
1. (U) This message is Sensitive but Unclassified --
Please handle accordingly.
2. (U) SUMMARY: A major State Department-sponsored
humanitarian demining training program for the Sri
Lankan (SLA) Army has kicked off at a base in the south.
The project, which has already received upbeat press
coverage, serves to reinforce strong U.S. support for
Sri Lanka's peace process. END SUMMARY.
3. (U) A State Department-sponsored humanitarian
demining training program for the Sri Lanka Army (SLA)
kicked off on August 25. The training program, which is
budgeted at USD 2.2 million, is taking place at a base
for SLA engineers located in Embilipitiya, a town in
southern Sri Lanka. The program, conducted by the RONCO
Corporation, will train SLA officers and enlisted
personnel in internationally accepted humanitarian
demining methods. Designed to contain both training and
operational elements, the program is scheduled to take
place from late August 2003 through February 2004. The
program is set to train approximately two hundred SLA
personnel, who will utilize their new skills in
government-sponsored demining and unexploded ordnance
(UXO) removal efforts in the northern district of Jaffna
and in the east. (Note: The north/east bears the brunt
of the landmine/UXO problem in Sri Lanka, with UNDP
estimates of roughly one million landmines and thousands
of tons of UXO present.)
4. (U) The RONCO team consists of six personnel -- four
Americans, one Canadian, and one Swede -- who will train
the Sri Lanka Army in all areas of humanitarian
demining, including emergency medical training for
demining-linked injuries. RONCO chief of party Fredrik
Palsson told poloff on August 21 that cooperation with
the SLA for the demining training has been
overwhelmingly positive thus far. He added that the
team was pleased with the facilities provided by the SLA
in Embilipitiya, a rural area in Sri Lanka's deep south.
Stressing the high level of professionalism in the SLA
honed after years of war, Palsson predicted that
training would proceed at a more advanced level than in
other countries where RONCO had worked in the past.
5. (U) The project has already received outstanding
press coverage. The August 22 signing of the U.S.-GSL
Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the project by
Charge' Entwistle and Defense Secretary Austin Fernando
received enormous play in English-, Sinhala-, and Tamil-
language newspapers. (Note: The MoU is contained in
Ref A.) Front-page coverage was the norm. Television
and radio coverage was also robust, with state-owned and
independent broadcasters featuring the story in their
August 22 news broadcasts.
6. (SBU) COMMENT: Given the extent of the landmine/UXO
problem, humanitarian demining is a key issue in Sri
Lanka, especially as more and more displaced persons
attempt to return to their points of origin in war-torn
areas. As reviewed in Mission's humanitarian demining
country plan for Sri Lanka (see Ref B), U.S. demining
assistance reinforces our strong support for the peace
process. The Embilipitiya project follows up on two
USG-sponsored quick reaction (QRDF) teams, which demined
in Jaffna to rave reviews in 2002/03. It is positive
that the training project is taking place in the south,
as it highlights that U.S. assistance efforts are
national in scope. The ultimate impact of the project,
however, will be where it is most needed, i.e., the war-
torn north/east. END COMMENT.
7. (U) Minimize considered.
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