LANDMINES NO LONGER A BIG THREAT (NEW ZEALAND)
The global landmine crisis is over. It is not a message many people expected to hear, given millions of the hidden killers remain in the ground in a host of developing nations. The admission seems all the more surprising coming from a former Kiwi soldier from Christchurch, who has dedicated his working life to tackling the scourge of unexploded ordnance.
NEW ZEALAND, 20 February 2008 The Press (Christchurch)--
By Dan EATON
John Flanagan has lived for years in conflict-zones like Kosovo and Cambodia.
"The crisis is effectively over, and that is primarily because the trade in anti-personnel mines has stopped," Flanagan told The Press.
Flanagan commands an army of 12,000 United Nations deminers in 10 countries.
He says that while the threat from landmines has abated since a 1997 treaty banning them, a potentially bigger threat looms -- cluster bombs.
Visiting New Zealand as part of the UN delegation attending a conference to hammer out a treaty to ban cluster munitions, Flanagan said his men were increasingly being called on to tackle that threat.
NZ is leading international efforts to achieve a ban.
The Wellington conference, attended by 550 delegates from more than 120 nations, is being hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
It comes amid growing international concern over the dangers posed by the multiple "bomblets" released over large areas by cluster bombs.
Many of the devices -- which often look like brightly- coloured toys -- do not explode on impact, remaining on the ground and attracting the attention of youngsters.
"New landmines are not being made and that problem has largely been solved.
"That is not to say places like Cambodia and Afghanistan are no longer heavily contaminated by mines, they are," Flanagan says.
"They will take years to clear, but we are on top of that situation."
Flanagan said the issue with cluster bombs was not so much the number of countries now contaminated, but the potential for future use.
Most of the world's big military powers, including the United States, Russia and Israel are refusing to contemplate a ban.
Amongst the worst-affected places on Earth are Afghanistan, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Those munitions were dropped mostly from American aircraft.
As chief of operations at the UN Mine Action Centre, Flanagan is a regular visitor to Afghanistan, where he commands 8000 mostly local deminers.
Those men are the constant target of Taliban insurgents intent on destabilising the fragile government.
Oddly, often their only protection is a religious edict from local Muslim leaders.
"Deminers are actually on a jihad.
"It has been declared a Holy War by the Mullahs," said Flanagan.
"For them it is honourable work and the local population are very much behind it."
Von: 2008 Fairfax New Zealand Limited. All Rights Reserved.