Countries Compromise on Banning Land Mines

Article excerpt

Thirty months of talks on whether to ban land mines ended Friday with a compromise treaty that reflected the world's military realities rather than its humanitarian hopes.

But a total ban on anti-personnel mines, sought by more than 30 governments as well as the United Nations and the International Red Cross, will have to wait at least five years. The pact was worked out by an intergovernmental conference of 55 nations.

The accord phases out nondetectable plastic mines, which can kill and injure decades after a war, and introduces rules to limit the lifespan of anti-personnel mines planted outside marked fields to three months.

But to appease China and Russia, which have vast stocks of those old-fashioned plastic mines that cannot be detected and do not self-destruct, the treaty gives nations nine years to switch to the detectable, self-destructive variety.

"It is an important achievement in international humanitarian law," said Johan Molander, a Swedish diplomat who drafted the compromise.

Others strongly disagreed. The Red Cross described the treaty as "woefully inadequate" and said it might actually encourage the development of new, sophisticated mines.

"I must register my deep disappointment that the progress achieved falls so far short of what I had hoped for," U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said.

By the time the treaty comes up for review in five years, an additional 50,000 people will have been killed and at least 80,000 injured by mines, Boutros-Ghali said.

He said 10 million to 25 million mines will have been added by the year 2001 to the 110 million already planted.

"Land mines will continue to be used by the million, produced by the million and transferred by the million. …