Landmine Opponents Turn Up the Heat in Washington
Published on Thursday, March 8, 2001 by Agence France Presse
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Landmine Opponents Turn Up the Heat in Washington
Foes and victims of landmines stepped up the pressure Thursday for Washington to sign the international convention banning their production and sale.

Activists erected a three-meter (10-foot) pyramid of shoes and artificial legs between the US Capitol, where Congress meets, and the Supreme Court, which lies just behind it, to evoke civilian victims of the indiscriminate devices.

Ban Landmines
Jody Williams, right, speaks on Capitol Hill Thursday, March 8, 2001, joining activists seeking to ban the use of landmines. At left is landmine victim Song Kosal of Cambodia. The United States has declined to join 139 other nations in a treaty to outlaw the use of mines which kill indiscriminately. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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"Each year over 20,000 people are wounded or killed by antipersonnel landmines," read a sign on the display.

The sight, not uncommon in Paris or Geneva, is highly unusual for Washington.

"This is the first time that the International Campaign to Ban Landmines holds its conference in a country that is not signatory" to the Ottawa Convention banning landmines, noted US Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.

That stance puts the United States in company with Cuba, Iraq, Iran, China, Russia, India and Pakistan, noted Jerry White, co-chair of the campaign.

Some 133 countries have signed and 111 countries have ratified the convention, which went into effect two years ago, banning the manufacture, sale and stockpiling of landmines.

White himself fell victim to a landmine during a trip to the Middle East in 1984.

"Little did I know ... a 16-year-old Russian mine was waiting for me," White said at a news conference. "Suddenly your leg is missing, your foot is dangling, your life has changed forever."

Next to him sat Jun Hi-Ko, a 50 year old South Korean in a wheelchair. Jun stepped on a landmine while gathering firewood near the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

"Please, please, President Bush, give them up so that when I go around in the world, I won't be asked anymore why the only remaining superpower has not changed" its policy on landmines, pleaded Jody Williams, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work coordinating the campaign, a coalition of non-governmental organizations from several countries.

The United States in 1992 adopted a moratorium on the production of landmines and has neither produced nor exported them since 1996.

It has spent 400 million dollars assisting landmine victims, but it is essential, Williams said, that Washington send a strong message by signing and ratifying the Ottawa Convention.

Every year, some 800 people are killed and 1,200 maimed by landmines, 80 percent of whom are civilians. There are still up to 80 million landmines buried in 80 countries.

Late Wednesday, Jordan's Queen Noor appeared before members of Congress to appeal for increased aid for landmine victims worldwide.

"Nearly half of all landmine victims die, but those who survive face enormous obstacles in their struggle to reclaim their lives," Noor told a House of Representatives panel.

Referring to US President George W. Bush's "Freedom Initiative" to bring resources to support Americans with disabilities, Noor said: "May I humbly propose that President Bush and the Congress consider globalizing this initiative to address the urgent needs of mine victims and other persons with disability."

In late January outgoing president Bill Clinton outlined his administration's efforts to eliminate landmines but said he was deferring any decisions on alternative programs developed by the Pentagon to the next administration.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a high US official told AFP Thursday that completion of a review of the US government's landmine policy is expected in two or three months.

Some US generals -- including Norman Schwarzkopf, who led allied forces against Iraq -- have recently made public statements that mines have little use in modern militaries and have injured thousands of US soldiers in Vietnam and the Middle East.

Copyright © 2000 AFP