Thursday, November 18, 2004

Landmines - a silent killer

Piggybacking on the current détente between India and Pakistan, the two countries need to actively pursue an agenda dedicated to banning the use of anti-personnel landmines, something that “does not distinguish between the foot of an enemy soldier and that of a child”.

This is what Balkrishna Kurvey, the Coordinator of the Indian Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), had to say at a meet in the city on Thursday that was held to gauge the Indian situation ahead of the UN-sponsored summit on a mine-free world in Nairobi beginning on November 29. “Landmines belong to the era of the World War II. They are not suited for modern warfare,” he added.

The ICBL claims that 758 people, including several children, have been killed because of anti-personnel mines between January 2002 and March 2004. Of these 184 deaths occurred in the border districts of Sriganganagar, Jaisalmer, Barmer and Bikaner. These mines were laid during Operation Parakram that followed the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. Approximately 10 lakh mines were laid along the Indo-Pak border, stretching from Gujarat to Jammu & Kashmir.

“This was one of the biggest landmine-laying operations ever in recent history,” said Kurvey. Additionally, it has maimed over a thousand people, the ICBL says. Stressing that there was “no alternative to banning anti-personnel landmines”, Kurvey added that geographical factors, such as sandstorms and rodents, dislocated the mines. The demarcating fences, he informed, were often removed, either by poor villagers or storms, and not repaired later. Compensation was also inadequate and the children suffered the most, Kurvey said.

He contested the claim by the Indian army that 99 per cent of the mines had been removed. “It is safe to assume that at least five to 10 per cent of the mines are dislocated,” Kurvey said. Forty-two countries remain outside of the 1997 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, including China, Russia, and the United States, most of West Asia, most of the former Soviet republics, and many Asian states, including India and Pakistan. There are 143 countries who have signed the treaty.

On the other hand, BMVSS Founder Chairman DR Mehta said that “aspects involving the Indian Army get shrouded with non-transparency”. “This issue needs to be discussed,” he added, calling for accountability of organisations involved in fitting artificial limbs. “Somehow the focus seems to have shifted from the patient,” Mehta Said. The meet was organised with support from International Committee of the Red Cross and Paryavaran Parishad in Kota.


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