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Monday, June 22, 1998 Published at 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK


UK Politics

Government under fire over landmine ban

Robertson: committed to the Ottawa convention

The government has come under heavy fire in the Commons after refusing to commit itself to ratifying the Ottawa anti-landmines convention, a cause championed by Diana, Princess of Wales, in time for the first anniversary of her death.


George Robertson restates the UK's commitment to the convention
The independent MP for Tatton, Martin Bell, asked the Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, if he would agree with him that: "It is necessary to ratify the treaty before the recess or the first anniversary of the Princess's death, and what better way to honour her memory".


[ image: Martin Bell: hoping for ratification before the 1st anniversary of Diana's death]
Martin Bell: hoping for ratification before the 1st anniversary of Diana's death
In reply, Mr Robertson pleaded a lack of parliamentary time, and not a lack of will as the reason behind the government's delay.

He said: "There is a considerable congestion in the legislative timetable and we will ratify it when the time is available and as quickly as we possibly can."

Britain leading the way

Speaking during defence questions, Mr Robertson told the House that despite the government's failure to ratify the treaty it had already begun to honour its commitments under the convention.

"We are committed to ratifying the Ottawa convention, and I can tell the House, in the last year alone, we have destroyed 450,000 landmines. More than 50% of the total."

The secretary of state added that the UK was "way ahead of the target that I set myself for destroying all of our stocks by the year 2000. Which itself would be some five of six years ahead of the targets set down in Ottawa."

Bosnia

British troop levels in Bosnia are to be kept at roughly the same level, Mr Robertson revealed.

In the wake of the UN Security Council's decision to extend the mandate of the stabilisation forces in Bosnia for another year, Mr Robertson announced that the UK contribution to the SFOR forces in Bosnia and Croatia would be 4,800 troops, making the UK the second largest contributor after the US.

British forces were helping, he said, to ensure that "democracy and inter ethnic communality" were returning to the region, but they would not be there on a permanent basis.

However, referring to the fighting taking place in the Serbian region of Kosovo, the secretary of state warned the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, that the level of violence taking place in Kosovo was "unacceptable".

He said: "Nato has made it clear that all military options, with none excluded, are being studied at the present moment with a view to deploying them if the violence is not going to stop."



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