Published on Monday, November 26, 2001 by the Inter Press Service
Landmine Risks Touted as U.S. Reviews Stance
by Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS - European Union (EU) officials say anti-personnel landmines pose
a grave threat in Afghanistan. Their warning comes as human rights advocates accuse
the U.S. administration of trying to abandon proposals to banish the deadly weapons
from its own military arsenal .
Ambassador Stephane de Loecker of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the 15-member EU, says recent weeks' events have shown that landmines are a major humanitarian problem.
"The situation in Afghanistan - one of the countries most affected by unexploded mines and devices - was a sad illustration of this fact," he said.
Between March 1978 and December 2000, at least 2,812 people have been the victims of mines or unexploded ordnance in Afghanistan, U.N. figures show. The average number of casualties worldwide is estimated at over 150,000 annually, mostly women and children.
The United Nations warned last week that landmines and unexploded U.S. cluster bombs posed a serious risk to humanitarian workers as they prepare to mount relief operations in Afghanistan.
Although an overwhelming majority of the 189 member states have either signed or ratified the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, the United States, Russia, Israel, Pakistan, and India remain among several notable holdouts.
Loecker has told delegates here that landmines not only have a devastating effect on human lives but also are an obstacle to post-conflict development in war-ravaged countries.
"The presence of mines was often an obstacle to the convoying of humanitarian aid since, in many cases, detours had to be made before the people could be reached," he said. Regrettably, these observations also applied to many other regions of the world, he added.
The warning against landmines coincides with a report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said that the Pentagon is seeking to roll back U.S. policy on the use of anti-personnel landmines.
Citing unnamed government sources, HRW says U.S. defence officials have recommended that the United States abandon its standing commitment to join the Mine Ban Treaty by 2006, even if alternatives to anti-personnel mines are identified and fielded.
"The existing U.S. policy to eliminate anti-personnel mines over time appears to be in jeopardy," said HRW's Mark Hiznay.
He said the Pentagon's moves are a component of a multi-agency landmine policy review. He pointed out that officials in the Department of State and the National Security Council will now join the review before President George W. Bush makes a final decision by the end of this year.
Hiznay said HRW believes that in any meaningful review, the Bush administration should reject the Pentagon's recommendation. The argument advanced by some U.S. defence officials, that anti-personnel mines are essential, should not be accepted without critical examination, he added.
Norwegian diplomat Arne Birger Honningstad said there has been a "dramatic decrease" in the production and export of landmines since the adoption of the anti-mine treaty in 1997. But anti-personnel mines still represent a threat to millions of people and are a significant obstacle to economic and social progress, he noted.
"The fact that 15 governments and 30 rebel groups were using the weapon was unacceptable," he said, refusing to name names.
He also said that at least one unnamed country that had signed the treaty might be violating it by deploying landmines. This was very "disturbing", he added.
Ambassador Masood Khalid of Pakistan said it was "alarming" that more than 60 developing nations were suffering because of the irresponsible use of landmines resulting either from foreign occupation or internal conflict.
In Afghanistan alone, about 10 million landmines were scattered throughout the country. The victims were treated in Pakistani hospitals, he added.
Laotian official Alounkeo Kittikhoun said more than three million tons of explosive ordnance was dropped on his country, leaving it a dangerous legacy not widely known within the international community.
"No other country in the history of modern warfare had withstood the kind of aerial bombardment as Laos did during the 1964-1973 Indochina war", he said.
Since the war ended more than 25 years ago, some 12,000 accidents have involving unexploded ordnance have occurred, causing some 6,000 deaths, he added.
Copyright © 2001 IPS-Inter Press Service