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Thursday, October 18, 2012 -7.25 GMT
The women clearing Sri Lanka's mines


When Sri Lanka's war came to an end in 2009, the town of Puthukudiyiruppu was left with a grim legacy.

Landmines and other unexploded devices lie behind every tree, in every ditch, in houses, churches and temples.Many were randomly scattered by the LTTE in the final months before their defeat.

But now efforts are under way to rid the country of this scourge once and for all.

At sunrise 12 women deminers laugh and joke as they prepare for work.

They are one of three teams of women, and five of men, employed by the UK-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG) - one of several demining charities working to rid Sri Lanka of unexploded weaponry left over from 26 years of war.
"So many people died, so many children, husbands, whole families," recalls one of the women, 38-year-old Jayakanathan Valarmadhy.

"Many people lost hands or legs. I saw many like that. I helped in the hospitals, gave blood, we did whatever we could to help."

In 1998 the war took the life of Valarmadhy's husband. Now, through her job with its specialist training, she is helping eliminate any danger to displaced people resettling here.

Although demining in Sri Lanka is progressing well, finishing the job will take another eight years, officials say.
Valarmadhy, as a widow with parents and three teenage boys to look after, loves this work although she admits many in her village are bewildered.

"The contamination of mines is more high and so we have to check accurately all the area around houses, around well, around toilet, around big tree - around all that area that can have some importance during a fighting scenario," he says. "We find mines even in the cemetery."

At a separate site across the town the Sri Lankan Army's Humanitarian Demining Unit gathers unexploded weapons extracted by NGOs and its own big demining operation.

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Last modified: October 18, 2012.

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