WASHINGTON - The United States, stung by insurgent attacks in Iraq, has urged the international community to consider banning all sales of antitank and other heavy landmines, but ruled out its participation in an international conference on mines designed to hurt primarily people.
Members of the so-called Ottawa Convention will gather in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday to review implementation of the 1997 accord that bans use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel landmines.
An opinion poll unveiled in September by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations showed that 80 percent of Americans disagreed with this position and said the government should support the landmine banning treaty.
As many as 143 nations have signed up to the accord, which took effect in March 1999.
But a group of 42 countries, led by the United States, Russia and China, have refused, citing the need to protect their troops in various theaters of deployment.
In a written statement released Friday, Deputy State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli gave no indication of change in the US approach and said US diplomats will not be attending the Nairobi gathering.
But he pointed out that important work still "remains to be done" to rid the world of the scourge of landmines that, according ban supporters, still kill and maim between 15,000 and 20,000 people around the world every year.
"Eliminating civilian landmine casualties requires a comprehensive approach addressing landmines of every type that remain hazardous after a conflict has ended, including the larger antivehicle landmines that are not covered by the Ottawa Convention," Ereli said.
He urged convention members to examine their use of non-self-destructing antivehicle mines and agree to negotiate, at the UN Conference on Disarmament, "a ban on the sale or export of all persistent mines, including antivehicle mines."
The proposal came after US defense officials have expressed their growing concern about the use of so-called improvised explosive devices by anti-American insurgents in Iraq.
US military experts have calculated that up to 60 percent of all attacks on US troops and Iraqi security forces in late 2003 began with the explosion of one or more such devices, which are often fashioned from unexploded antipersonnel or antitank mines taken from the old Iraqi arsenal.
Before the US-led March 2003 invasion of Iraq, this arsenal included an estimated 10 million such mines, according to GlobalSecurity.com, a local research organization.
US troops in Iraq travel primarily in Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which could be vulnerable to devices handcrafted from antitank mines.
Ereli also urged conference participants to ban all non-detectable landmines, which he said "pose a particular hazard to deminers."
The US military is modernizing its landmine inventory, removing from it all non-self-destructing and non-detectable mines. This process is expected to be concluded by the end of 2010, officials said.
Earlier in the day, US Assistant Secretary of State Lincoln Bloomfield sought to assure members of the Ottawa Convention that they will find in the United States a "strong partner" in trying to prevent humanitarian tragedies caused by landmines.
But he reaffirmed the US decision to stay out of the convention because the Pentagon deems it necessary to have landmines at its disposal "either to save US forces in the field or to save allied forces or to save a population that we are protecting."
Meanwhile, an opinion poll unveiled in September by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations showed that 80 percent of Americans disagreed with this position and said the government should support the landmine banning treaty.
© Copyright 2004 AFP