Weapons beyond war
EDITORIAL. J.Sri Raman. VI. XXVIII. X
by J. Sri Raman
According to an under-noticed report, Nicaragua declared itself landmines-free at long last on June 18. The announcement should have come as a reminder of a callously unaddressed task in many parts of the world, including ours, where the distinct preference of powers-that-be is to pretend that the danger of these weapons of civilian destruction does not exist.
It took the Central American nation 21 long years to rid itself of this murderous legacy of its civil war of the eighties. It may take centuries for the world to be liberated from the death traps that devastating wars imposed on several regions have left behind.
magnitude of the problem is mind-boggling.
Nicaragua itself claims to have achieved its goal
only after defusing 179,970 land mines at1,029
sites, including 70 bridges, 378 electricity
towers and seven hydroelectric plants. Over 10
million of these dreaded devices - exploding on
human operation or the approach of a person, a
vehicle or an animal - are waiting to erupt in
about 70 countries. Every month, they murder or
maim over 2,000 persons, mostly women and
children in rural or frontier or forested
The figures concerning de-mining are equally frightening. For every mine cleared, another 20 are laid. In 1994, for example, while 100,000 mines were removed, an additional two million were planted. A United Nations study of 1997 put the cost of defusing the then 110 million active mines at $33 billion. It was expected to take over 1,100 years to make the world entirely free from this menace. As for relief and rehabilitation, land mine victims needed blood transfusions twice as often as people injured by bullets. Treatment of an amputee, in those distant pre-recession days, cost $3,000 - or $750 million for the UN-registered 250,000 amputees.
land mines are known to remain active for
50-years. The mines also lay the land waste by
making agriculture impossible over vast tracts of
several developing countries.
The sole superpower has played a leading role in the proliferation of landmines. As Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega has noted, most of the mines in the country were planted by the US forces during the domestic conflict though the rebel Sandinistas too resorted to their use. Military operations, assisted by the US Central Intelligence Agency, against the local insurgents also included mining in neighbouring El Salvador in the eighties. Bordering countries like Honduras and Costa Rica became victims of the landmining offensive as well.
Mines planted or supplied by the US have been identified during clearance operations in places like Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia in Asia and Rwanda, Mozambique, Somalia and Angola in Africa.
The US forces in Iraq have faced flak for use of cluster munitions, which release and scatter landmines too. In the other war theatre of Afghanistan, over 530 square km have been identified as mine-affected, with Kabul earning dubious distinction as the most heavily mined capital city in the world.
India should have ample reason of its own to be concerned about the problem. New Delhi, for example, should have evinced more concern about the mines in a neighbouring country. The resettlement of Sri Lanka's war-uprooted Tamils was delayed and has been made difficult by the landmines left behind by both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and state forces. A closer cause of concern should be the landmines strewn along the Jammu and Kashmir border, which continue to claim the lives and limbs of people on both sides of the Line of Control.
The issue has an entirely internal dimension as well. Weeks ago, we were told the army might spare its Sappers for de-mining the Maoist-affected areas, "ahead of major operations by police and central forces:" An expression of concern for the people of the tribal terrain may help enlist popular support for such an exercise.
India will do itself proud by not staying on a stubborn non-signatory to the Mines Ban Treaty of 1997 in the company of the US and Sri Lanka, among others.