Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Sri Lanka: Claymore mines - common and deadly

As part of a campaign to ensure that there are no easy hiding places for Claymore mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the verges of main roads in Colombo and many other major cities are now being kept clear of overgrown shrubs.

The Claymore is an explosive device that uses a heavy metal sheet backing to project the blast in a certain direction. It was first developed in the USA in the 1950s and used extensively as a defensive weapon by US troops, placed around the perimeters of their encampments and liable to be detonated in an enemy attack.

Claymore mines and similar lethal ordnance have claimed hundreds of lives, most of them innocent civilians, since fighting between government forces and Tamil Tigers escalated in December 2005.

It was a Claymore mine attack on a tractor carrying troops in the northern Jaffna peninsula in 4 December 2005 that triggered the latest bout of violence. Four soldiers were killed in the incident. Ever since, the mines have been used to devastating effect.

Experts believe that easy access to high explosives has allowed the local manufacture of IEDs using fragmentation technology similar to that used in Claymores to direct a blast in a certain direction.

“I very much suspect that they are IEDs which use the Misznay-Schardin/Claymore effect [to project the blast in a certain direction]” Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, civil military coordination officer in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) regional office for Asia and the Pacific, told IRIN. “It is not hard to make such a device, particularly if you have access to explosives, which all sides do.”


The presence of Claymores and IEDs is so widespread that troops with fork-like iron prongs now regularly comb Sri Lankan roads, looking for the tell-tale wires that are sometimes used to trigger the devices.

Troops and members of the Civil Defence Force (CDF), an auxiliary force of the police, are stationed at regular intervals along major access roads to prevent anyone from placing them in highly populated urban areas. Each sentry has to oversee 100-150 metres, according to Rear Adml Sarath Weerasekera, the CDF director-general.

Both the government and the Tamil Tigers have been blaming each other for using Claymores and IEDs to target non-combatants. Their indiscriminate use has also generated wide international condemnation.

“Both sides show little regard for the safety and wellbeing of civilians - and violate international humanitarian law,” Human Rights Watch stated in its World Report 2008 which details events of the previous year.

One of the worst attacks…

One of the worst attacks using a Claymore or an IED was one of the first. On 15 June 2006, 65 civilians were killed and over 50 injured in a Claymore attack at Kapethigollawa, 175km northeast of the Colombo.

“An investigation by the Nordic-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) found the attack showed evidence of military expertise and the professional deployment and handling of weapons,” Amnesty International said in its International Report 2007, entitled the State of the World’s Human Rights.

“The SLMM concluded that it was ‘highly probable’ that the LTTE [Tamil Tigers] or LTTE-affiliated forces carried out the attack,” the report said.

Victims often children

Among the victims there have been many children, as was the case in another recent attack involving a Claymore mine. On 29 January, 20 civilians, including 11 children, were killed when the bus they were travelling in was hit by a mine explosion near the sacred Madhu Shrine inside Tiger-held areas in the northwestern Mannar District, 240km from Colombo.

The Tigers blamed government forces for the attack, a charge rejected by the latter.

“It was a school bus that travels every day,” the Catholic bishop in the area, Rayappu Joseph, told IRIN. “We have called [on all sides] so many times to avoid civilian deaths and especially asked the fighting parties to stay out of the sacred Madhu area.”

New trend

OCHA’s Stampa said the recent use of Claymore mines and similar devices outside the battle areas to target unarmed civilians in Sri Lanka was a new trend.

“They have been used in any number of counter-insurgency/counter terrorist campaigns to target insurgents/terrorists,” he told IRIN. “I do not know of the system being used to target non-combatant civilians in the same way in which [it] has sadly become commonplace in Sri Lanka.”

The OCHA officer, however, warned that their use was unlikely to diminish any time soon. “In a classic counter-insurgency or terrorist campaign there are no front lines and striking targets in the enemy’s rear areas is a classic tactic which has proven to work. Sadly there are no ‘non-combat areas’.”

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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