WASHINGTON - U.S. acceptance of a treaty banning landmines is "long, long overdue" and President Barack Obama should use a 10-year review this weekend to announce plans to join the accord, anti-landmines campaigners said on Monday.
The treaty, which went into force on March 1, 1999, bans the use, stockpiling, production or transfer of antipersonnel mines. It has been endorsed by 156 countries, but several powers -- including the United States, Russia, China and India -- have not adopted it.
The United States is sending a State Department observer delegation to the treaty's second five-year review conference on Sunday in Cartagena, Colombia, the first time it has attended a gathering of states that have accepted the treaty.
"The very fact that they are showing up we take as a positive sign of movement on this issue within the Obama administration," said Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch.
"We hope they're not coming empty-handed," he added. "We very much want them to come and say that they intend to join this convention. Even if they can't give a timeline, we want them to say they intend to join at some point in time."
Goose said a declaration of intent was particularly important because the Bush administration reversed U.S. policy on accepting the convention and said it would never join.
"We're the only country in the world that has said out loud we do not ever intend to join this convention," he said.
Campaigners said the treaty has been enormously successful since it went into force, cutting land mine casualties by about half, sharply reducing the use of the weapons and encouraging relief efforts for victims. The international effort that led to the treaty won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
TREATY STIGMATIZED MINES
"By and large this weapon has been stigmatized, and in being stigmatized has been taken out of the world's arsenals," said Wendy Batson, head of Handicap International-U.S.
The only use of landmines by militaries last year was in Myanmar and possibly some unsettled Russian Federation areas such as Chechnya, she said.
Goose said the decision to join the convention should be a "no-brainer" for the Obama administration, with its emphasis on multilateralism and disarmament and the president's receipt of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
The United States generally abides by the provisions of the treaty, he said. It hasn't used antipersonnel mines since the 1991 Gulf War, hasn't exported mines since 1992 and hasn't produced them since 1997.
In contravention of the treaty, however, it does stockpile some 10 million antipersonnel mines, weapons Goose said were manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s and increasingly "quite ancient."
Use of mines by the United States would be difficult because most of its allies are parties to the treaty and are pledged not to help other countries use the weapons, he said.
"A U.S. decision to come on board this treaty is certainly long, long overdue," Goose said.
The review conference is being held in Colombia, a country with one of the worst ongoing mine problems. The government has accepted the treaty, but the FARC and ELN rebel groups continue to use mines.
Colombia "is actually held up as a key positive example of a country that saw the humanitarian benefits in joining this convention even though it was still at war and even though its enemy is using antipersonnel mines," Goose said.
Rebels used mines in at least seven other countries last year, he said, including Myanmar and probably Sri Lanka.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)