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New Land Mine Protocol Set To Be Adopted

Prague, May 3 (RFE/RL) - Delegates from more than 55 countries, meeting in Geneva, are reportedly poised to adopt today an accord aimed at limiting the "deadliness" of anti-personnel land mines.

The accord is a revision of the land mines protocol of the 1980 Conventional Weapons Convention and requires signatories to outlaw the most dangerous or undetectable mines, while placing restrictions on others.

The scope of the new pact is to include civil as well as international conflicts and - for the first time - places restrictions on the transfer of mines. The revision comes amid growing pressure for a world-wide ban on land mines, which not only maim civilians and soldiers but render agricultural land useless, thereby perpetuating poverty.

Russia, China and the United States are expected to be among today's signatories of the accord, despite their long-standing claim of still needing land mines to protect international borders.

Under terms of the new agreement, all mines must be detectable. Moreover, all mines laid outside marked minefields must either be equipped with self-destructing batteries or lose power in a maximum of 120 days. The deal also imposes new export restrictions, including an immediate ban on transfer of non-detectable mines, and would limit sales to governments and authorized state agencies.

After two years of tough negotiations, the amended protocol was met with immediate opposition.

The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, representing more than 500 separate organizations from 30 countries, said, "it is not even a step out of the minefield."

In a statement today from Geneva, the group said the revised protocol contains no effective mechanisms to ensure compliance and verification. They also say the key provisions will likely n-o-t take effect for a decade or more. It is their view that in that period, another 260,000 people will fall victim to land mines -- weapons they say that "can not discriminate between a combatant and a civilian."

The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines concluded its statement by saying today's agreement was a "shameful betrayal of the tens of thousands of innocent civilians who live in mine-affected regions".... victims like Petro Jakic, a 52-year-old Bosnian who suffered a severe leg injury from a mine while visiting his burnt-out home in Sarajevo. Jakic says Bosnian refugees could be deterred from returning home -- as called for under terms of the Dayton Peace Agreement -- by the presence of land mines in Bosnia.

The former Yugoslavia was a major mine producer during the Cold War. According to official estimates there are currently at least three million land mines laid in and around Bosnian battlefields and another three million in Croatia. Last December, the U.N. estimated it would take 1,000 mine clearers 33 years to clear all mine contaminated areas in the region.

But perhaps the worst mine-affected nation in the world is Afghanistan, where an estimated ten million mines are reportedly strewn. On average, one Afghan is reportedly injured or killed by a landmine each hour.

The United Nations today launched an urgent appeal for 50 million dollars in aid for mine clearance in Afghanistan. At a news conference today in Geneva, the Kabul-based U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, Martin Barber, said that the United Nations had receieved "less than 30 percent" of 124-million dollars requested from the international community in an appeal launched last October.

According to Barber, some 3,000 Afghans are working every day to clear the deadly devices, but he added that much of the capital city, Kabul, is still mined and that a small number of mines are still being laid.

An estimated 110 million mines are scattered through 69 countries and a further 110 million are stockpiled. According to the United Nations, between two and five million new ones are planted every year.

Swedish diplomat Johan Molander, who chaired the 30-month long negotiations, hailed today's accord as "an important achievement in international humanitarian conflicts."