U.N.: Decade to rid world of land mines

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations said it will take perhaps a decade, not hundreds of years, to rid the world of land mines - a scourge in mainly developing countries that kills up to 20,000 people annually.


On the eve of the first International Day for Mine Awareness, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the goal of removing the millions of land mines believed to be still buried around the world will take the continued efforts of donors, the general public and mine-affected countries.
"The goal of a world without land mines and explosive remnants of war appears achievable in years - not decades as we used to think," he said Monday in a message to mark the day.
According to the most recent figures, deaths and injuries from land mines have decreased from 26,000 a year in the late 1990s. But the often hidden devices left over from conflicts are still killing and maiming between 15,000 and 20,000 people annually.
"Having been so effective in laying mines, we must now become even better at clearing them," Annan said. "Each mine cleared may mean a life saved. Each mine cleared brings us one step closer to building the conditions for lasting and productive peace."
He said the 1997 Ottawa Convention that prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of land mines is producing tangible results including collaboration among many countries to address the problem. The treaty has been signed by 150 countries, but not the United States, Russia or China.
Annan said the production and laying of mines are declining, the global trade in mines has virtually halted, stockpiles have been destroyed and mine clearance has accelerated.
In 2004, nearly $400 million was donated for mine action, with nearly $100 million coming from the United States. Afghanistan was the largest recipient of international mine-clearing aid that year, getting more than $90 million.
Nobody knows how many mines are still buried, but they affect at least 60 countries, according to the U.N. Mine Action Service Web site.
The three countries with the highest number of reported land mine victims in 2004 were Cambodia, Afghanistan and Colombia, according to The Landmine Monitor Report 2005. The count was incomplete for 2005 but Colombia appeared to be catching up on Cambodia. Max Gaylard, director of the U.N. Mine Action Service, said much work also remains to be done in Iraq, Angola, Sudan, Bosnia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Gaylard said three governments were reported to have used land mines in 2005 - Nepal, Myanmar and Russia in Chechnya. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Andrey Denisov countered that if land mines were used, it was by Chechen rebels, not Russian troops.
The International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action was established by the General Assembly to raise awareness and move toward the eradication of land mines, and events are planned Tuesday in many countries.

Von: By EDITH M. LEDERER, 04.04.2006, www.twincities.com

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