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Nepal marks becoming land mine-free
by Staff Writers
Kathmandu, Nepal (UPI) Jun 15, 2011

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

A huge controlled explosion marked the end of Nepal's deadly land mine areas and the beginning of it as Asia's second land mine-free country alongside China.

The areas, outside Kathmandu, were the last patches of ground where land mines were planted by Nepal's army during the Maoist insurgency wars.

One area, on the slopes of the 7,000-foot Phulchowki Mountain, is favored by hikers for the abundance of wildlife and bird-watching opportunities in particular. The other area is near Lalitpur, a quiet small ancient city about a 20-minute ride outside Kathmandu.

A peace accord implemented in late 2007 ended 10 years of conflict in which the Nepalese army planted an estimated 11,000 land mines. The majority of mines were planted near elevated military observation posts, telecommunication towers and airports, areas open to the public during peace time.

From January 2006 to this June, four people were killed and 19 injured in mine incidents, said the Informal Sector Service Center, a Nepalese human rights organization that welcomed the international land mine clearing effort.

Nepal's Peace and Reconstruction Ministry and the U.N. Mine Action Team jointly organized the detonation of the last of the 53 land mine areas to be destroyed. Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal and army chief Gen. Chhatra Man Singh Gurung detonated the two last mines.

"It was a positive bang," Shaligram Sharma, undersecretary at Nepal's Peace and Reconstruction Ministry, told media.

"In 2006, after the government of Nepal and the Maoists signed a peace accord, both agreed to provide records about where each side had laid mines and other explosive devices within 30 days and to demolish them in 60 days. However, it took longer."

The effort by Nepal's army, trained and equipped by UNMAT, with Western donors providing more than $8 million for the de-mining operations, has left it with 180 fully United Nations-certified de-miners. It also resulted in the creation of the Nepal Army Mine Action Coordination Center.

However, while Nepal may have rid itself of the army's land mines, leaders of the former Maoist army have admitted that an unknown number of improvised explosive devices -- favored by their units -- are still around.

Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda has said his People's Liberation Army possessed around 4,000 firearms but had thousands of IEDs. After the peace deal, the PLA handed over more than 52,000 IEDs to the U.N. monitoring agency.

The IEDs remain a deadly menace to the general population.

UNICEF has said that IEDs have killed 16 people this year. Many of the victims are small children who end up playing with the devices, which are often stored and forgotten in people's homes or have been hidden in fields and forests.

Nepal's de-mining efforts have been applauded by the U.K. government, which donated more than $5 million and military expertise to the land mine-clearing program.

A senior U.K. government minister praised Nepal's goal of being a land mine-free country and urged the Nepalese government to embrace the Ottawa Convention aimed at stopping the use of anti-personnel land mines around the world.

"I congratulate Nepal on this remarkable achievement and pay tribute to the brave work of the de-mining personnel," U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Jeremy Browne said in a statement.

"I now urge the (Nepalese) 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."

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