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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 September, 2003, 23:15 GMT 00:15 UK
Hopes rise in war on landmines

Stuart Hughes
BBC News

Mohammad Wali Gul, 25, tries a new pair of artificial legs in Kabul, following his landmine accident 15 years ago
Afghan mine victim Mohammad Wali Gul tries on new artificial legs
Around 600 delegates are gathering in Bangkok on Monday for the fifth annual meeting of signatories to the Ottawa mine ban treaty and there is genuine cause for optimism.

Over the past year, another nine countries have joined the treaty, which prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of landmines.

They include Afghanistan and Cyprus, which are both affected by mines.

A number of other governments have taken big steps toward joining the 136 countries that have already ratified the treaty.

In the 12 months to May, four million stockpiled landmines were destroyed.

Each landmine that is safely detonated lessens the threat from these indiscriminate weapons of death and mutilation.

It was in April when I was covering the conflict in Iraq for the BBC that I stepped on a landmine and lost my right foot and lower leg.

Soon after I became a patron of the Manchester-based mine clearance charity, the Mines Advisory Group.

Long-lasting scourge

Funding for mine clearance programmes has risen and, most importantly, the number of people killed and injured is down in the majority of mine-affected countries.

British soldier clears a mine in southern Iraq
Every day, courage is needed to rid the world of mines

Dozens of countries have stopped producing landmines and the global trade in the weapons has dwindled to mainly low-level black market sales.

But despite these positive developments, landmines continue to represent a major problem in some of the poorest countries in the world.

It is estimated that almost 80 countries - including China, Russia, the USA, Pakistan and India - have stockpiled around 200 million landmines.

Thousands of people in 65 countries were killed or injured by mines last year.

Two-thirds of these countries were not at war - but the brutal reality of these horrific weapons is that they continue to claim casualties for decades after the guns have fallen silent.

I know all too well that rehabilitation after a landmine accident is a long and intensive process.

Yet in dozens of countries the care available to treat mine victims is inadequate.

This can have a devastating effect on survivors, meaning farmers are unable to tend their crops and feed their families, women struggle to reach wells to collect safe drinking water and children cannot walk to school in remote villages.

Daily dangers

The United States is at the centre of the debate over landmines.

The US remains the largest donor to mine clearance projects, giving more than $70 million last year.

Even so, the US has slashed its mine action funding in recent years and has yet to conclude a review of landmine policy begun more than two years ago.

Washington urgently needs to show leadership by signing up to the mine ban treaty.

In recent weeks, the dangers faced daily by those who risk their lives in order to free communities from the scourge of landmines have been tragically highlighted.

On 4 September, Ian Rimell, a mine clearance expert from Kidderminster, western England, was ambushed and murdered near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Earlier in the day, he had cleared a scrapheap filled with ammunition and hidden explosives.

This week, as delegates in Thailand discuss plans for the universal implementation of the treaty, courageous individuals will be following Ian Rimell's example in Iraq, Cambodia, Angola, Kosovo and many other mine-scarred countries, ridding the world of these appalling weapons - one mine at a time.

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