Nepal executes last official killer of civil war


Kathmandu : Five years after signing a peace accord to end a decade of Communist uprising, Nepal’s government Tuesday executed the last surviving official killer of the civil war – the remaining landmine planted by the army to deflect attacks by the Maoist guerrillas.

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Watched by ministers, senior officials, army personnel and journalists, Nepal Army Tuesday finally readied to blow up the last official killer, the mine buried in Pulchowki in central Nepal to protect a telecom tower as well as civil aviation communication equipment.

“During the 10-year People’s War waged by the Maoists, the Nepal Army laid mines in 53 places in the country to safeguard its barracks as well as major infrastructures like telecom towers and hydropower projects,” said Shaligram Sharma, undersecretary at the Peace and Reconstruction ministry.

“When the war ended with the peace accord in 2006, both sides agreed to destroy all mines and other planted explosives within 60 days. Though it was too ambitious a deadline, yet it indicated the desire by both sides to destroy them as early as possible.”

In 2007, Nepal requested the UN to help demolish the war-time explosives. The world body contributed technical assistance as well as funds worth over $8 million pooled in from western donors like Denmark and Britain to train the army and police personnel in defusing these lurking threats.

Unicef played a key role in the protracted operation to mop up mines and other explosives as well as spread public awareness about threats they posed since children, aged between eight and 14, were the main victims, accounting for nearly 53 percent of the casualties.

However, despite their power to devastate, mines have been the lesser menace.

“The areas where the mines were planted were well recorded and marked with warning signs,” says Major Manoj Gurung of the Nepal Army. “Also, the army used mines that would detonate only under command to lessen chances of accidental mishap.”

Besides the mines, the army also used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that were planted in more than 275 areas. With 170 places cleaned up, now the focus will be on combing the remaining areas for the IEDs.

However, Nepal still remains at risk from the IEDs hidden by the Maoist guerrillas.

After the civil war ended, the Maoist People’s Liberation Army handed over more than 52,600 crude bombs fashioned from buckets, pressure cookers and other readily available ingredients that were gradually destroyed with UN assistance.

But many caches still remain at large.

“Sometimes, the combatants who hid the IEDs got killed or fled and disappeared,” says Sharma. “The guerrillas did not keep records of how many bombs they made and how many actually exploded.

“There could still be unexploded bombs at encounter sites, ready to explode. These explosive remnants of war continue to pose a threat.”

Besides the old remains of the war, Nepal is also under the growing threat of new explosives as new armed groups continue to mushroom, especially in the fertile Terai plains close to the Indian border.

“There is still a residual threat,” Sharma admits. “While the government is trying to address this politically by calling these groups to dialogue, we also need to generate awareness and educate people about the risks.”

But anti-mine campaigners say the government has an even greater responsibility.

“Nepal did not sign the Ottawa Convention that agrees to ban mines,” says Purna Shova Chitrakar, chief of the Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal. “When there are so many weapons for defence, why do we still need to install mines?”