Land Mines Great Killers of the Innocent: The United Nations Estimates That Up to 110 Million Mines in 64 Countries Could Explode at a Misstep

National Catholic Reporter, February 16, 1996 | Go to article overview

Land Mines Great Killers of the Innocent: The United Nations Estimates That Up to 110 Million Mines in 64 Countries Could Explode at a Misstep


Apparently it was not a land mine that killed Sgt. 1st Class Donald Allen Dugan in Bosnia on Saturday.

But it might have been.

Millions of land mines (reports range from 3 million to 6 million) lie in wait where NATO peacekeeping forces will be roaming -- a small fraction of those that stud landscapes around the globe. Wars eventually end, but where there are land mines, there is no peace, for they keep killing and maiming noncombatant victims long after cease-fires or treaties have been signed.

So far since December, nine NATO soldiers have died in Bosnia and 44 have been wounded, many of them by these hidden killers. Dugan apparently picked up a piece of ammunition of another kind, which exploded in his hands.

Victims of land mines -- some 500 each week -- are far more likely to be noncombatants -- farmers, children, even animals, whose foot falls in the wrong place. Mines are undemanding destroyers, attackers requiring neither food nor water that lie waiting decades after they are laid. The United Nations estimates that up to 110 million mines in 64 countries could explode at a misstep.

Many Americans are shielded from the problem, as mines, sometimes called the "Saturday Night Specials" of war, are most likely to pose hazards in developing nations. But we can hardly evade responsibility. The United States has been among major producers and exporters of land mines over the past 25 years. According to the International Campaign to Ban Land-mines, "Even if no more mines are ever laid, they will continue to maim and kill well into the next century."

Although momentum for a total ban is growing, Belgium is the only country that has enacted legislation meeting the goal of the international campaign, sponsored by some 350 nongovernmental organizations in 20 counties. The goal is a complete ban on land mines, covering production, stockpiling, use or export.

Mines are produced and exported by 56 countries. Short of a worldwide ban, good acts in some countries will only mean higher profits for others. China and Russia, for example, do a lucrative business in these deadly exports. Mine production is picking up in other countries that oppose regulation, including Iran, Egypt, India, Pakistan and Singapore.

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