Landmine scare

Landmines were something unheard of prior to the ten-year-old insurgency. During that decade, both the army and the rebels used the mines

to fortify their positions and even planted booby traps to ambush the passing enemy. The human toll from such booby traps was enormous. With the CPA, a new era began and the former rebels joined the mainstream under the umbrella of the peace process. While there may be misgivings as to how the peace process is moving ahead at the moment, the case of landmine clearance has not received the top priority like so many other issues and even after the signing of the said peace pact. The CPA had laid the foundation for works to immediately begin on mine removal as per the Agreement on Monitoring and Management of Arms and Armies. For this purpose, the Mine Action Directive and Technical Committee was formed with the specific task of finding and defusing landmines planted during the conflict by both the army and the Maoists. The obvious difficulty was the identification of the sites where the minefields had been laid and the technical expertise needed to complete the removal and defusing of the explosives. The short time given by the agreement, in fact, saw nothing concrete happening.

The Nepal Army did some clearance works on its own but its expertise remains to be honed. The United Nations Mine Action Team has also come into the scene. With the joint effort, it is claimed that all the minefields will be cleared within the next three years. Furthermore, as per reports, five such minefields were cleared this year while 48 military pattern minefields still remain together with some protective fields consisting of improvised explosive devices. However, the arrival of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) team saw some activity as regards the monitoring and management of arms and armies but no headway was

really made for clearing the areas where minefields had been laid. The need to get rid of the explosives was urgent but the then government and the political heavyweights were more interested in the power game rather than get the life-threatening landmines and other improvised explosive devices safely removed.

The snail’s pace of clearing landmines is very irritating, as until and unless their removal is completed the life of many people are still at risk. The present government does not seem to speak out about the action plan that it has to rid the land of such explosives. The government, particularly the CPN-Maoist which is heading the government, ought to come up with clear-cut guidelines in this regard. The army and the Maoist combatants too must identify further landmines that have not been detected so that the clearance team will have a clear picture as regards the location where the demining activity has to be carried out for safety purposes. If the 11 months of 2008 saw a meagre five minefields cleared, the guess remains that it may take decades to remove the others unless stepped-up pace is not resorted to considering the task. Landmine clearance is already overdue and the government has to be blamed for not paying urgent attention to it.