GENEVA - A record area was cleared of landmines worldwide last year, but casualties caused by the weapons rose by 11 percent to 7,328, with almost all the victims civilians, many of them children, a report said on Wednesday.
Despite stepped-up clearance work, efforts to implement a 1997 international treaty banning the use of the anti-personnel weapons could slow without higher levels of funding, according to the Land mine Monitor Report 2006.
The hands of a mother and a child, victims of a landmine explosion, in south Nepal, June 6, 2005. A record area was cleared of landmines last year, but casualties caused by the weapons rose by 11 percent to 7,328, with many of the victims children, a report said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Gopal Chitrakar/Files
"Families affected by landmines want to see words become reality: they want to walk, play and live without fear, once and for all," said Sylvie Brigot, executive director of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), one of the humanitarian groups which produces the annual report.
The rise in casualties reflected conflicts in countries like Myanmar, India, Nepal and Pakistan, which are not signatories to the ban, and in treaty member Colombia where there were more than 1,100 mine victims last year, the highest single total.
Rebel groups are the largest users, with Myanmar being the country where government forces are known to have planted mines over the past year, authors of the report told journalists.
Children account for 20 percent of the victims reported in nearly 60 countries. But at least as many other casualties are estimated to go unrecorded.
"We continue to believe the true number is at least two times this (the reported figure)," said Steve Goose of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
The report, which monitors progress in applying the anti-mine treaty adopted by over 150 countries, said landmines remained in at least 78 countries.
"The longer states take to clear these mines, the longer these mines wait in the ground for innocent civilians to step on," said Jody Williams, ICBL ambassador and 1997 Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate for her work in setting up the movement.
The total area cleared in 2005 was 740 square kilometers (300 square miles), approximately the size of New York City. Some 470,000 landmines, including about 450,000 anti-personnel mines, and 3.75 million explosive devices were removed.
But funds for de-mining and for assisting victims fell for the first time since the treaty came into force to $376 million, $23 million less than in the previous year, the report said.
The European Union, the United States and eight other major donors cut back on help for de-mining activities. The steepest reductions were seen in Iraq, down 53 percent at $30.9 million, followed by Afghanistan and Cambodia.
Money was also required for the up to 500,000 surviving mine victims, many of whom are maimed and will need help for the rest of their lives, the report said.
Activists said they expected the issue of money to be raised at the week-long 8th annual conference of signatory states starting in Geneva on September 18.
Under the treaty, countries pledged to de-mine their territory within 10 years. But 13 states, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Mozambique and Thailand, are not on track to meet the goal, the report said.
The United States, Russia and China, all major arms producers, are not signatories to the pact.
© Reuters 2006