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World: Activists Gather With Government Delegates At Anti-Mine Summit

Some predict Afghanistan will be cleared of mines in a decade Kenya today officially launched a weeklong international conference toward the goal of eradicating land mines around the world. Held under the auspices of the United Nations, the conference gathers representatives of more than 140 governments that have ratified the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines. Hundreds of anti-mine activists and land-mine victims also are attending the Nairobi conference.

Prague, 29 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The immediate goal of the conference is to raise money for mine-awareness education programs, for mine-clearing work, and for the care of land-mine victims around the world.

The president of the conference, Austrian Ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch, said he hopes the conference will convince governments that still have stockpiles of land mines to destroy the weapons.

"We are going to look more and more after the victims -- the survivors who are the poorest of the poor, innocent victims of these terrible weapons," Petritsch said. "And we are going to intensify, of course, the destruction of stockpiles."

The international anti--mine treaty is also known as the Ottawa Convention because the first 123 countries to sign the agreement did so in the Canadian capital in December 1997.

Petritsch said that since the treaty came into force in 1999, about $2.7 billion have been channeled into mine clearance, education, and victim assistance.
Cambodia, Angola, and Afghanistan are among the most heavily mined countries in the world.

"Thirty-seven million land mines have been destroyed only in the past five years," Petritsch said. "We need to go on to destroy those that are still left so they don't fall into the wrong hands -- that they are eliminated from the surface of the earth so that they cannot kill and maim more people."

None of the world's top three military powers -- the United States, Russia, and China -- have signed the Ottawa Convention. Anti-mine activists at the Nairobi conference note that the United States has not used mines since 1991 and China since 1997.

But groups like the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) say they would prefer that Washington and Beijing become parties to the treaty.

The ICBL won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 after seeing its campaign efforts boosted by public support from Britain's late Princess Diana. The ICBL has sent about 350 researchers, lobbyists, and land-mine survivors this year to the Nairobi conference.

ICBL spokeswoman Sue Wixley said that "we hope that governments will recommit themselves to the goal of a mine-free world, now that so much has been achieved -- that they won't turn their backs on the problems that still exist and work that still remains to be done and that, in fact, they will redouble their efforts."

Wixley said she does not think the anti-mine campaign has been set back by the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States or the subsequent U.S.-led war on terrorism.

"It's true that the world we are living in now is different -- even to the time when the treaty was started in 1997," Wixley said. "It is also true that this is one of the few current successes in the world -- at the moment -- in international humanitarian law. And it's been a product of multinational diplomacy. But it is working. And great progress has been made. So even despite some of those challenges in the world today, much has been done."

Cambodia, Angola, and Afghanistan are among the most heavily mined countries in the world. All three have ratified the anti-land-mine treaty and have experts working year-round to clear unexploded ordnance from the land. Wixley said that Afghanistan is an example to all war-torn countries that have millions of mines scattered across old battlefields.

"The story of Afghanistan is a symbol of the light at the end of the tunnel for mine-affected countries. With a lot of hard work, with cooperation, and with donor countries -- as well as mine-affected countries like Afghanistan taking responsibility to deal with their own problems -- we can achieve something," Wixley said. "People are predicting that it will take maybe a decade to clear the mine problem in Afghanistan. It's an example of [one of] the great successes of the treaty."

The Afghan delegation at the Nairobi conference is led by Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Haider Reza. He is expected to seek pledges from donor countries to fund demining programs and to assist Afghanistan's many survivors of land-mine explosions.

Wixley said that countries that ratify the anti-mine treaty are obligated to provide help to land-mine victims.

"The obligation of states is to help land-mine survivors in a number of areas. That includes emergency support if they have been injured, as well as rehabilitation -- including prosthetics and whatever they need to get back on their feet again, literally. It includes psychological counseling," Wixley said. "There are also many challenges when [victims] try to get back into their lives -- and live their lives as they had before their accident. Socioeconomic reintegration -- that's about providing income-generation projects for land-mine survivors, skills projects to help them retrain so that they can make a livelihood after their accident. That's a big challenge. And for many land-mine survivors, that's the No. 1 priority."

According to the "Landmine Monitor Report" published earlier this month by the ICBL, there are some 300,000 to 400,000 land-mine survivors living in 121 countries. In global terms, the number of new mine victims each year is thought to be between 15,000 and 20,000.