Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

UN, Nations Hit Potholes on Path to Land Mine Ban

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

UN, Nations Hit Potholes on Path to Land Mine Ban

Article excerpt

ANTIPERSONNEL land mines are cheap, often lethal, and all over the world from Angola to Afghanistan. They kill or maim an estimated 500 people a week worldwide, according to the US State Department. Scattered from planes or dug in the ground, they explode under civilian feet as easily as under the boots of soldiers. To a child, they can look like a harmless plastic toy. The world's antipersonnel mines - up to 110 million in all, according to the United Nations, pose a huge problem in a tiny package. But the world community has found it difficult to agree how to decrease their use in war, let alone how to get rid of them after a war. Delegates from 49 countries gathered in Vienna on Sept. 25 to dust off a 15-year-old land-mine treaty at the first Review Conference of the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons. The US ratified the Convention and its protocols this March, and the ratification came into full the day before the conference began. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali took a strong stand in the debate by telling conference delegates that the world "must eliminate land mines once and for all." What's on the table Delegates are unlikely to agree on a total ban this time around. For example, land mines designed to detonate under tanks and vehicles are usually not included in the ban call because they do not pose the same kind of humanitarian problem as antipersonnel mines: They tend to require much heavier loads before they detonate, are more easily detected, and are used less because they are more expensive. Unlike other such international gatherings, the outcome of the negotiations is not clear yet. Diplomatic sources going into the conference have said that many of the participating states generally support limited kinds of land-mine use and certain technical changes to antipersonnel land mines that would give them a shorter life or make them more detectible. Many negotiators will seek to expand the treaty's mandate to cover internal conflicts and increase the number of signatory countries among UN member states. Representatives from countries that have not ratified the treaty and from humanitarian groups will also attend the conference as observers, and are expected to influence the wording of the final text. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) began pushing for a total ban on land mines several years ago, inspired by what their staff saw on the ground. "The humanitarian advocacy campaign only really started in 1987, when international aid workers trying to help Afghan refugees return home saw the number of civilian casualties climb," says a military specialist involved in the Afghan repatriation. Afghanistan is widely seen as one of the worst-affected countries in the world. (See story, right.) Several of the more than 360 different types of antipersonnel land mines are, or were, produced by Western manufacturers. Yet the problem is not just closing down producers, but getting undetonated mines out of the ground after wars are over. While antipersonnel land mines can be made for as little as $3 apiece, the costs of de-mining are far higher. The UN claims that in 1993, while 80,000 land mines were neutralized by de-miners, at a cost of $300 to $1,000 apiece, 2.5 million more were planted worldwide. For manufacturers, land mine production and sales are not especially cost-effective either when compared with other weapons, observes Stephen Goose from the Human Rights Watch Arms Project in Washington. "Very few companies are dependent on land-mine production for their financial well being," he says. Nothing does the job for less But for armies and militias, land mines are bargains. Military sources cite reasons why antipersonnel land mines are used: *Land mines are designed to disable, not kill, making a soldier a burden to his fellow troops and dragging down company morale. *Antipersonnel land mines boost some kinds of fighting power. The temptation by poorly financed armed groups to rely on cheap, undetectable land mines is enormous. …
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