By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, March 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Pakistan has lodged an official complaint with the United Nations over damage caused to a protected forest reserve during an air strike by India last month, Pakistan's climate change minister Malik Amin Aslam Khan said on Monday.
The air strike in the Massar Jabba Forest Reserve had damaged a forest ecosystem which "could take up to a century to recover", said Khan, Prime Minister Imran Khan's adviser for climate change.
Khan said he handed over a dossier detailing the damage at the U.N. Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, calling on the global body to condemn India and seek compensation.
"We think what happened was a strike on nature - it was a strike on the Massar Jabba Forest Reserve which is a protected ecosystem and a globally important carbon sink," Khan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
"We are speaking for the voiceless trees of the Massar Jabba forest reserve which became a target of this operation."
India and Pakistan are amidst their biggest stand-off in years, with the United States and other global powers mediating to de-escalate tensions between arch-foes who have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
Indian warplanes on Feb. 26 bombed the hilly forest area near the northern Pakistani town of Balakot, about 40 km (25 miles) from India's border in the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
India said it destroyed a militant training camp, adding Pakistan's accusation of environmental damage was "misguided".
"It is unfortunate that the Pakistan delegation has misused this forum and wasted the time on matters not relevant," Rahul Chhabra, Permanent Representative to UN Environment told the world's environment ministers at the UNEA last week.
"The air strike by India in Balakot in Pakistan was a precision and accurate strike directed at terrorists located in a terrorist training camp and the strike was not aimed at any environmental damage."
Pakistan denies there were any such camps in the area.
The Jabba Massar Reserve Forest is located in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and was established as a protected area in 2015 as part of the "Billion Trees Afforestation Project" which promotes forest regeneration.
A report by Pakistan after the air strike found damage to an area of 1.2 acres which included 19 pine trees valued at 2.7 million Pakistani rupees ($20,000) and soil erosion.
"The recovery of biomass lost due to this destructive action will take about a century to recover," said the report, produced by a team of experts, including staff from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and World Wide Fund for Nature.
Khan said India had violated international rules such as a U.N. resolution which states "destruction of the environment, not justified by military necessity and carried out wantonly, is clearly contrary to existing international law."
The damage contravened International Humanitarian Law, with additional protocols to the Geneva Convention prohibiting warfare which is intended to cause "long-term" and "severe" environmental damage, he added.
"In terms of the extent of damage, I mean, the whole forest did not go up in flames - but the fact is that the only victim of this atrocity was the environment," said Khan.
"Nature paid a price for somebody's madness. We want compensation, retribution and condemnation of this act." (Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Additional reporting by Annie Banerji in New Delhi. Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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