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Jun 14, 2011 at 09:51pm IST

UN declares Nepal free of land mines

Phulchoki: The United Nations declared Nepal free of land mine fields on Tuesday after the last of the anti-personnel weapons planted by the army while fighting communist insurgents was destroyed.

Prime Minister Jhalnath Khanal flipped a switch to trigger the last land mine, which had been laid to protect the main civil aviation radio tower in mountains south of the capital, Katmandu.

UN official Robert Piper declared that the mine field in Phulchoki was the last of 53 areas where the army had planted the weapons.

UN declares Nepal free of land mines

The mine field in Phulchoki was the last of 53 areas where the army had planted the weapons.

"One more milestone on the road to peace, as we declare Nepal mine field-free," Piper announced.

The tower at Phulchoki is used by flight controllers to communicate with planes flying across the Himalayan nation. It was guarded by an army camp, which was surrounded by a land mine field to protect against attacks by the Maoist rebels.

"Today is a historical day because Nepal has been liberated from all kinds of land mines," Khanal said.

However, there still are areas where homemade bombs were planted by both sides, and efforts to clear those continue, Piper said.

Land mines explode by themselves when someone walks nearby, while homemade bombs are normally set off by a combatant.

Government soldiers used land mines imported from India, China and Russia, while the rebels did not have access to any. Soldiers mapped the areas where they planted the mines, making the job of demining easier.

The task of clearing the land mines began in 2007 after the rebels signed a peace agreement and abandoned their armed revolt, with the United Nations training Nepalese soldiers to do the task.

The army has cleared 170 of the 275 fields where it laid homemade bombs, but there is no record on the part of the rebels. UN arms monitors have destroyed some 53,000 homemade bombs that were turned in by the rebels after they signed the peace deal.

More than 13,000 people were killed in the insurgency that began in 1996 and lasted 10 years.

Since the Maoists joined the peace process, they have joined mainstream politics and confined their fighters to camps.

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