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Wednesday, December 3, 1997 Published at 16:15 GMT


Landmine treaty signed, but not by big players
image: [ A landmine kills or maims someone every 20 minutes ]
A landmine kills or maims someone every 20 minutes

A treaty banning landmines is being signed by at least 89 countries in Ottawa, Canada, but some major producers and users of landmines, including the United States and China, will not be adding to the list of signatories.

Landmines have had a high profile since the highly publicised visit of Princess Diana to Angola last year.

[ image: Princess Diana on Angola visit]
Princess Diana on Angola visit
The Princess's death re-focused attention on the issue, and pushed governments to take action to show that they were serious about banning landmines. The treaty was negotiated in Oslo in September, a month after Princess Diana's death.

It will ban the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines.

[ image: Every year 2-5 million new mines are put in the ground]
Every year 2-5 million new mines are put in the ground
By signing the treaty, countries will commit themselves to destroying their stockpiles of landmines within four years, and to clearing mines in affected countries.

The signing ceremony is the final stage of the "Ottawa Process", which began in October 1996 at the instigation of the Canadian government.

However, the US government will not sign because it still sees a use for landmines in preventing any North Korean invasion of South Korea.

China is also opposed to the treaty, arguing that all states have a right to use mines to fight foreign aggressors. China is the world's biggest manufacturer of landmines.

Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Israel and North and South Korea are also unlikely to put their names to the treaty.

Some commentators have questioned how effective the treaty will be without the signatures of the US and China, and many of the other major producer and user nations.

[ image: US soldier clearing mine in Kuwait in Gulf War]
US soldier clearing mine in Kuwait in Gulf War
President Clinton says he is not willing to risk the safety of the 37,000 US troops in Korea: "There is a line that I simply cannot cross - that line is the safety and security of our men and women in uniform," he said

George Stephanopoulos, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, criticised him in an article in Newsweek: "The President's silence is a surrender to the military - but their case is flawed, and Clinton should instead side with the bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate and 100 nations who favour a ban".

Mr Stephanopoulos said that Mr Clinton had overlooked the fact that mines had killed 29 UN and NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia and wounded more than 250 others.

Although the big weapons manufacturers are generally the countries less willing to cooperate, Russia is a notable exception. President Yeltsin surprised the world when, in October 1997, he announced that Russia would join the Ottawa process. Russia has used landmines extensively in Afghanistan and recently in Chechyna.

Facts about Landmines

    [ image:  ]

  • The Red Cross estimates that there are 120 million mines laid across the world, and that they kill or maim someone every 20 minutes.

  • Landmines kill or main more than 2, 000 people a month, primarily civilians.

  • Once landmines have been laid, they are completely indiscriminate in their action. The UN estimates that landmines are at least ten times more likely to kill or injure a civilian after a conflict than a combatant during hostilities.

    [ image: Diana in Bosnia: over a third of victims are children]
    Diana in Bosnia: over a third of victims are children

  • 30-40% of the victims of landmines are children under the age of 15.

  • Each year 2-5 million new mines are put in the ground.

  • Anti-personnel landmines laid during World War II are still killing and maiming civilians.

  • The Red Cross has estimated that over the last 50 years landmines have probably inflicted more death and injury than nuclear and chemical weapons combined.

  • The UN has estimated that a landmine which costs $3 to purchase costs between $200 and $1,000 to clear.

  • Angola is the most mined country in the world, with approximately 15 million uncleared landmines. More than 30,000 Angolans have had limbs amputated as a result of mine explosions.

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Internet Links

Ottawa process - official web site

International Campaign to Ban Landmines

Ottawa Landmine Treaty - International Committee of the Red Cross

The Humanitarian Foundation of People Against Landmines

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