Some rats help to clear landmines, others shift weapons

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New Delhi, Mar 30 (UNI) Strange as it may sound that while experts are training rats to clear landmines in Africa, the rodents in Jammu and Kashmir are creating problems for the Army by actually shifting the deadly hidden weapons from where they were planted to unmarked areas -- killing and maiming civilians and soldiers.

Several of anti-personnel landmines, laid during Operation Parakram by the Indian Army after the attack on Parliament, have now been deemed 'unaccounted for'. ''While some have sunk deeper into earth or have drifted due to rains, some of the mines have been shifted by rodents'', said Brig B S Sachar of Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA).

The expert, who has served in Jammu and Kashmir, said field rats often shift the mines to other places while digging burrows. ''Such mines go unaccounted for and civilians or soldiers inadvertantly step on it accidentally,'' he added.

After Operation Parakram, while the Army have de-mined the entire area and handed over the land back to locals for farming unaccounted mines remain a problem. ''Some mines are of 1948 vintage and keep going off,'' he added.

Forest fires was another reason for landmine explosions. ''There is a huge growth of 'sarkanda' in the region. When it catches fires, mines laid earlier or recently are triggered,'' he added.

At times animals or cattle enter the otherwise fenced minefields and die. When locals go to retrive the cattle, they too become a victim.

Brig Sachar and other experts were participating in a conference on 'Indispensibility of anti-personnel mines for India's defence: Myth or reality' here.

For the past 10 years, a group of Belgian researchers, based in Tanzania have been training a species of giant African rats-- the largest rats by size in the world-- to sniff out landmines and unexploded ordnance.

By teaching local residents how to handle the rats-- a food source for some Africans-- the group hopes to develop a cheap, reliable and indigenous resource for de-mining, an expensive and dangerous process that typically operates in unstable, war-ravaged regions.

The use of landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) offered a much cheaper way to gain media publicity for the rebel outfits, called non state armed actors (NSAA) in security parlance.

''While a landmine is available for as less as Rs 45 a piece, an assault rifle can cost Rs 1.50 lakh'', said Binalakshmi Nepram of Control Arms Foundation of India.

''NSAAs use landmines and IEDs as they lack resources to use other weapons against security forces...some of the landmines are self-produced using material available openly,'' said Dr Tasneem Meenai of Jamia Milia Islamia University.

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