Friday, January 13, 2012

NSCN, KNO say 'No' to Land Mines, Will others follow the suit?

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 Its not everyday that one gets to hear news from the North East (NE) India - especially of the insurgent outfits - that can bring a smile on one's face. Well, today is that rare day. Because, today I heard something that is worth a bunch of smiles: 3 insurgent outfits in our NE have taken a pledge against using anti-personnel (AP) land mines. The outfits are the National Social Council of Nagaland (NSCN), Kuki National Organization or KNO (an umbrella organization of several outfits) and Zomi Re-unification Organization (I have never heard of the 3rd, but whoever they are, I am sure they believe in being humane).

Thousands of ordinary citizens in the North east and elsewhere are  helpless preys of the Anti-personnel mines (Photo courtesy: P Min)
The news immediately made me think of my friend Benjamin (not his real name) a Kuki man living near Indo-Burma border town of Moreh. Last year, during a conversation Ben told me that one of the hazards that he risked everyday was getting blown by a landmine. Now, Ben is a Kuki tribal himself. But like thousands of others, he too is just a helpless, possible prey to the mines; not knowing where the mine was buried, he could step on one because the insurgents were not going to tell him 'don't go there brother, we got a mine in there.' Ben's fear is not an imagination; till today, 88 people in Kuki community alone have been killed  by landmine blasts so far - a fact gathered by the prominent anti-mine campaign organization Control Arms Foundation of India.

In his mid-twenties, loss of limbs terrified Ben - an emerging student leader who dreams of leading his community someday.

Now, the pledge and signing of the Deed of Commitment under an initiative called Geneva Call by KNO (along with its arch rival NSCN) means that Ben's life will be sans that one fear of killed or crippled by a landmine.

Now, while I am happy for Ben, I can't help wishing that the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) - unquestionably the largest and most powerful insurgents groups in my region was one of the signatories as well. Why only ULFA, I wish each of the 100 odd insurgent groups operating across North east (and elsewhere as well) had also taken the pledge.

Unfortunately, they have not and AP mines are continuing to be used. As a result, civilians - most of them women - continue to fall victims (on Dec 2 a young girl was injured in Kashmir's Kupwara by an accidental mine blast) all over the country. And, thanks to the continued use by the insurgents, global use of landmines in 2011 has been the highest for seven years, according to a report by International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) - a global campaigner against landmines. The report says that use of landmines has been on the rise, especially  in  Israel, Libya, Syria and our next door neighbor in the North east -Burma. Burma is also one of the only three countries that still produces the mines, with Pakistan and India being two others.

 To follow the simple marketing logic, the supply stops when the demand stops. If landmines are not  used, they will not have to be produced. Since every insurgent outfit is fighting for the rights of the people it represents (often a deprived lot - either economically or/and politically), it is only logical that they should make this very tropical change in their strategy and stop subjecting their people to more sufferings than what they already go through. By signing the Geneva call , the NSCN and KNO have set an precedent for others to follow. Will that happen?
I will never stop hoping  for that.

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