'It Could Be Never Ending' (Falkland Islands)

The UK government is facing the prospect of failing one of its key commitments to the Falkland Islands, 25 years on from the conflict there between Britain and Argentina.


In 1997 it championed and signed the Ottawa Convention on Landmines, which banned their use and obliged signatories to clear their territories of mines by 2009.

The Falklands is the only UK territory with a landmine issue and time is fast running out to deal with them.

In her final special report from the Falklands, Sky News presenter Julie Etchingham went to see the Falklands minefields.

"The Argentines left a sinister footprint on the Falkland Islands - more than a hundred minefields with more than eighteen thousand mines.

Some are very close to the capital Stanley, others are in peat bogs and on beaches. It means some of the most beautiful parts of the islands are totally inaccessible.

The UK has a duty under the Ottawa convention to clear them by March 2009, so the clock is clearly ticking. But it's a controversial issue.

The minefields here are clearly marked, there have been no fatalities from the mines and clearance would cost millions.

So the islanders, backed by some campaign groups, have come up with a plan. They've told the UK they can live with their minefields and that they would rather the money be spent in places like Angola and Cambodia where it would save lives.

"There's absolutely no pressure from the islanders on the Government to clear these mines," Richard Davies, from the Falkland Islands government, tells me.

"We think with a bit of common sense, it might be better to spend the money in places where they cause huge humanitarian problems."

But Simon Conway from campaign group Landmine Action says ultimately the UK has to take responsibility.

"Here we are, ten years after the treaty was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, ten years after it was signed, and we're about to fail to adhere to a treaty which we championed," he said.

"By doing so we offer a get-out clause to other nations to say: 'well, we won't spend money clearing our mines and saving lives'."

The Foreign Office is about to receive a feasibility study on clearing the Falklands minefields, and refused to give us an interview until they know its contents.

But it pointed out that it is already spending millions in other countries to clear mines and, in a statement, said that it's committed to fulfilling its treaty obligations.

It's due to make an announcement on the issue to the Ottawa member states meeting in November.

But talk to the soldiers who monitor the minefields on the Falklands and it seems impossible that the UK might meet the deadline.
Corporal Jamie McGhee from 33 Engineer Regiment showed me just one of the sites on a beach outside Stanley.

"You're looking at a lot of years to clear this. It would be never ending. You'd have to sift through all the sand to make sure everything was clear. And that's just this area alone," he said.

There's no doubt that honouring the Ottawa Treaty would remove an uncomfortable legacy of war from everyday life on the Falklands. The question is: how soon might it happen?"

Von: 03.04.2007 news.sky.com/

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