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NEPAL: Demining under way but threat of casualties persists

KATHMANDU, 3 June 2008 (IRIN) - The demining process is making steady progress, according to the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which has been involved in the clearance and destruction of landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) since November 2007, supported by a team of international specialists from ArmorGroup.

By May 2008, UNMIN's Mine Action unit had destroyed more than 14,500 IEDs stored in seven main cantonments and two satellite camps of the former Maoist rebels. The UN has been supervising the management of arms and armies since the end of the decade-long armed conflict and peace accord signing in November 2006. Almost all the IEDs in the Maoist sites have been destroyed, according to UNMIN.

Officials told IRIN the mission had also helped the Nepal Army to clear four out of 53 anti-personnel landmine sites in and around army barracks and camps – all of which are estimated to hold more than 14,000 landmines laid by the army to thwart off possible Maoist attacks.

Although the number of casualties from IEDs and anti-personnel landmines has fallen compared with the last several years because of demining and mine-risk education programmes, there is still a lot of potential danger, according to a national NGO, Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal (NCBL).

Between 1998 and 2007, there were 4,809 victims of IEDs and landmines, more than half of whom were children, according to NCBL. Between January to May 2008, the number of casualties was 24, of whom 17 were children.

"Statistically, children are becoming more vulnerable. Seventy-five percent of the casualties involved in victim-activated explosions were children this year compared with 50-57 percent in the past," UN's mine action consultant Hugues Laurenge told IRIN.

He said there was a need for mine-risk education to improve awareness about the location of abandoned, unexploded or stored IEDs.

There is also a danger of IEDs in the Terai region of southern Nepal, where armed groups have been using IEDs, resulting in civilian casualties, according to a report, Local View on Mine Action and Ottawa Treaty by NCBL.

National policy needed

The lack of a national policy is seen as the main reason for the failure to control IEDs – because Nepal has not signed the Ottawa Convention. "We should advocate for signing and ratification of the main international instruments that address the issue of explosive devices [Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and Ottawa Treaty] and this is part of our strategy for this year," said Laurenge.

UNMIN's role in Nepal is due to end on 22 July and there is concern among NGOs about how this will affect the mine clearance work.

"Only a few landmines have been cleared and there are still a lot of IEDs in many parts of the country in civilian areas," said Krishna Raj Panta, programme coordinator of NCBL.

The most tedious and time-consuming demining task would be to destroy anti-personnel minefields, which, according to UNMIN estimates, will take another three to four years for complete clearance and destruction.

Continued support

"The UN mine action team requires an invitation from the government for us to continue our work after 22 July. However, we would like to stay here and continue to support the Nepal Army to develop the mine clearance capacity at least for another 12 months," Grant Milthorpe, UNMIN's senior mine action adviser, told IRIN.

UNMIN provided mine-clearance training to 80 army personnel who have been involved in clearing the mines under the supervision of the UNMIN Mine Action unit. "The Nepal Army demining teams have performed very well in the past 10 months, but will continue to need supervision and financial support to continue mine-clearance operations," he added.

According to UNMIN, mine clearance, as opposed to the clearance of IEDs, is a slow as well as dangerous process.

"With the right cooperation, we can clear all the minefields in three to four years. But if we can't continue lending support to army demining teams post-July, then that could be seriously affected," said Milthorpe.

"We are not here to do the work, but rather assist in the development of the Nepal Army's capacity to complete the clearance of all minefields. The demining teams trained thus far have done a great job, but they do require additional support to continue," he added.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict

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Copyright © IRIN 2008
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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