The Killing Fields

Fol­low­ing China, Nepal be­came the sec­ond coun­try in Asia to be­come free of land­mines. De­spite this break­through, home­made bombs re­main a se­ri­ous threat to the coun­try and its peo­ple.

Southasia - - Religion & politics - By Sidra Rizvi

Nepal suf­fered a bru­tal civil war for nearly a decade, re­spon­si­ble for killing nearly 13,000 peo­ple and dis­plac­ing a fur­ther 100,000. The bit­ter con­flict be­tween the govern­ment and the rebel Maoists prompted the govern­ment soldiers to plant thou­sands of land­mines im­ported from In­dia, China and Rus­sia, across Nepal. Un­fortu- nately most of these land­mines were placed near el­e­vated mil­i­tary posts, air­ports and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion tow­ers; ar­eas that were ac­ces­si­ble to the com­mon pub­lic dur­ing the war.

Dur­ing the in­sur­gency the Nepal army planted nearly 11,000 land­mines in 53 fields around Nepal. How­ever, con­sid­er­ing a pos­si­ble de-min­ing process in the fu­ture, all the ar­eas with land­mines were mapped care­fully. There­fore when a peace deal was signed in 2006 be­tween the govern­ment and the rebels, there was an im­mi­nent need to clear the coun­try of the thou­sands of land­mines scat­tered all over. Once the armed re­volt was of­fi­cially over and the Maoist rebels sur­ren­dered their arms, the coun­try from 2007 on­wards be­gan

the process of rid­ding it­self from the land­mines.

Land­mines are de­signed to blow up au­to­mat­i­cally when some­one steps on them. They are known to kill in­dis­crim­i­nately, every­thing and any­thing in their path. So when Nepal an­nounced its de­ci­sion to de-mine it­self, this was seen as a pos­i­tive step by na­tions across the globe. The United King­dom do­nated close to 5 mil­lion pounds as well as mil­i­tary ex­per­tise to help Nepal with its de-min­ing process. The army un­der the United Na­tions Mine Ac­tion Team man­aged to de­stroy all the land­mines by June 2011; five years af­ter the peace deal was of­fi­cially signed. Ac­cord­ing to a Nepalese hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tion, from Jan­uary 2006 to June 2011, four peo­ple were killed in land­mine re­lated in­ci­dents and 19 oth­ers were in­jured. The UNICEF, how­ever, places the num­ber of land­mine re­lated deaths at 16, mostly in­volv­ing young chil­dren play­ing in the fields.

Orig­i­nally the idea was to re­move all land­mines from the coun­try within a year fol­low­ing the peace agree­ment. But ow­ing to the steep ter­rain and un­pre­dictable weather con­di­tions, it was not pos­si­ble to do so. In due time, how­ever, the last mine was det­o­nated at an iconic mo­ment by the Nepalese Prime Min­is­ter, Jhala Nath Khanal, on 14th June 2011.

With the re­moval of all land­mines planted within its ter­ri­tory, Nepal be­came the sec­ond coun­try in Asia to be free of land­mines - af­ter China. UK For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice Min­is­ter Jeremy Browne of­fered congratulations to

Dur­ing the in­sur­gency, the Nepal army planted nearly 11,000 land­mines in 53 fields around Nepal. How­ever, con­sid­er­ing a pos­si­ble de-min­ing process in the fu­ture, all the ar­eas with land­mines were mapped care­fully.

the coun­try and asked it to join the Ot­tawa Con­ven­tion to protest the use of these con­tro­ver­sial weapons al­to­gether. “I con­grat­u­late Nepal on this re­mark­able achieve­ment and pay trib­ute to the brave work of the de-min­ing per­son­nel. I now urge the Govern­ment to build on this suc­cess by join­ing the Ot­tawa Con­ven­tion to en­sure that these ter­ri­ble, in­dis­crim­i­nate weapons never again blight Nepali soil and the lives of its peo­ple.”

While the threat of land­mines is gone in Nepal, there still lurks the dan­ger of the hundreds of home­made bombs planted heav­ily by both sides dur­ing the con­flict. The Nepalese army man­aged to clear around 170 of the 275 home­made bombs it planted, whereas the UN arms mon­i­tor teams de­stroyed an­other 3,000 af­ter they were handed over to them by the rebels fol­low­ing the peace agree­ment. There still re­main an un­known num­ber of such bombs scat­tered across Nepal that pose grave risks to the cit­i­zens. These bombs are cur­rently in the process of be­ing re­moved.

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