Nepal has an int'l story to showcase on demining: May clear all mines by next year

KAMAL RAJ SIGDEL, PYUTHAN, Feb 19 - In what appears to be a successful story for the world to replicate, Nepal has completed 50 percent of the total demining operations, an important aspect of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). If the work goes unobstructed, the demining is likely to be completed by 2011, making Nepal the first example in the world to complete the job following International Mine Standard (IMS) within the shortest time.

As of Wednesday, Army teams assisted by UN Mine Action Team (UNMAT) have cleared 23 out of a total of 53 minefields. An UNMAT-hired team destroyed all 52,000 explosives and dangerous items stored in different Maoist cantonments some two months ago.

On Thursday, three specially trained Nepal Army platoons deployed in Pyuthan (Mid West), Rammechhap (Central Region) and Banke (Mid West) demolished some of the final explosives in the minefield in the districts.

UN experts involved in demining in Nepal say the progress that Nepal has made in demining holds international significance. “Nepal will probably stand out as one of the best examples in the world, in that the demining work is being completed in a very short time and with much less money,” says Stephen W. Robinson, Programme Manager of UNMAT.

International experience shows that demining is very expensive. For instance, Afghanistan has been spending roughly $100 million every year on demining for the last 21 years but only a portion of the job has been completed so far. “It may take another couple of decades for Afghanistan to complete the demining,” says Robinson, who worked there.

In Nepal, the cost is estimated to be around $6 million, which comes from the UN Peace Fund. However, the cost does not include the in-kind contribution by Nepal Army.

Instead of hiring international companies, the UN helped train Army teams to take up the job, which not only saved money but also helped transfer valuable technical know-how to Nepali experts.

NA’s successful involvement in demining here has not only contributed to the overall peace process but also proved that NA has gained the capacity to contribute to global peace efforts by carrying out similar works on UN call anywhere in the world,” says Col. Ramesh Pun, who heads the NA’s Mine Action Coordination Centre.

With UNMAT assistance, NA has developed three demining platoons comprising 129 soldiers, who were trained in Nepal and Kenya.

UN support to mine action will phase out over the next one and a half years in sync with the completion of final minefields. “Once the minefields are cleared, the Army supported by other sectors of the government, will address any residual threats from the remaining IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices),” Says Robinson. Statistics show that IEDs have been behind 90 percent of the casualties in Nepal.

Still, the threats remain. While NA claims to have left behind no IED of the decade-long insurgency, the Maoists concede that their fighters have left IEDs in the thousands while they were engaged in guerrilla war and frequently changed locations. There seems to be little record of the locations and the IEDs left behind.

“This is the only threat that will remain. If the concerned parties give us information, we are ready to clean them up,” says Robinson. (The Kathmandu Post, Feb 19)


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