Sri Lanka Unleashes Canines on Mines
By Nora Boustany
Wednesday, June 2, 2004; Page A21
The ceremony's organizers will not worry about honorary doctorates or valedictorian visionaries, but scent and sensibility.
For Wyoming, Hannah, Trusty, Lehigh, CC and Galleon, the six-pack of German shepherds and Belgian Malinois undergoing training at the Sri Lanka Army School of Military Engineering, it is graduation time. To many Sri Lankans, these graduates are their future saviors.
Like so many unsuspecting mortals this season, these land mine-sniffing dogs will be stepping into a world of harsh realities that will test their skills and instincts for survival. Their chances look pretty good, the program's organizers say; out of about 400 graduates unleashed on the world this way, only two have met with accidents.
The commencement ceremony is scheduled for June 10 in Sri Lanka, with Americans who helped pay for the program in attendance.
At the end of February 2003, a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire agreement took effect between Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil rebels. That prompted the World Bank to commit $1 million to a new mine removal project led by the U.N. Development Program in a country where an estimated 700,000 to 2 million mines are buried.
The Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington and the Marshall Legacy Institute together raised $120,000, and the State Department pledged $300,000, to what is officially known as the Mine Detection Dog Program in Sri Lanka, according to Ambassador Devinda R. Subasinghe.
From the start, the program had all the trappings of a politically correct Washington fundraising effort. It was about peace, not war. The Humane Society, the State Department and the diplomatic corps were all on board, as were think tanks and corporate donors.
The Clearing the Path Gala at the Willard Intercontinental Hotal on Jan. 28 lacked nothing in pomp and circumstance. George Stephanopoulos was master of ceremonies, and the Duke School Show Choir belted out their very best to entertain the guests.
Subasinghe said the funding was diverse, including the American business community, Sri Lankan expatriates, schoolchildren from Wyoming and the citizens of Lehigh Valley, Pa. Big sponsors in effect gave scholarships to individual dogs and got to confer a name. The Martin Trust Family Foundation, for instance, sponsored the dog named Trusty.
The ambassador hosted a reception at the embassy yesterday to thank major donors, who were also invited to the graduation ceremony. Some donors who have visited areas with mines said that encounters with Sri Lankan children who had lost legs to land mines made it easy to write a check.
The demining program is going smoothly. But there could be trouble ahead for a larger program to rebuild Sri Lanka. At a meeting in Brussels yesterday, Western donors warned Sri Lankans that they might lose $4.5 billion in aid pledged last year unless the government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam resume peace talks that have been stalled for a year.
The call to formalize the end of the 20-year civil war came at the conclusion of a meeting of representatives from Japan, Norway, the United States and the European Union, co-chairs of the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka.
Saying Merci on D-Day
French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte will bestow the Legion of Honor on 100 American D-Day veterans Thursday afternoon at his embassy on Reservoir Road NW. It's a salute to them before they board a special Air France flight to attend D-Day anniversary celebrations in Normandy on Sunday.
Levitte is scheduled to address the veterans and pay tribute to their risking of their young lives for a country that was not even theirs, according to an advance copy of his speech made available by the embassy.
"We will never forget. France will never forget. Europe will never forget. I want you to know that for all of us, for all the French people, you are heroes," Levitte will say.
Term Limits in Chad
Yorongar Ngarlejy, an opposition leader from Chad, said he planned to head home today after a month-long effort to gather support in Washington for a protest against what he called President Idriss Deby's maneuvering to extend his number of terms.
Ngarlejy, who claims he was the actual winner of the 2001 presidential contest against Deby, said he and a number of opposition groups "walked out and slammed the door" on a May 26 amendment of the constitution that in effect lifted the limit on the number of terms a president can serve.
Changes to constitutional clauses proposed by the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement passed by a vote of 123 to 0, with one abstention, after opposition lawmakers boycotted the session.
Even if they had stayed, Deby would still have won the vote in the 155-seat legislature. Ngarlejy said in a telephone interview that he has lodged complaints with the World Bank, saying his government failed to comply with guidelines the bank set for the management of oil revenue in the service of social programs.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company