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World: Nobel Peace Prize Awarded To Landmine Group

Prague, 10 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Norwegian Nobel Committee today awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1997 to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and its coordinator Jody Williams.

The award marks a major victory to a movement that has grown during the last six years from two minuscule groups in two separate countries into an international organization enjoying the support of many governments.

The ICBL was launched in November 1991 by the U. S.-based Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and Medico International of Frankfurt, Germany.

By 1997 more than 1,000 separate organizations and groups from all over the world had become affiliated with the ICBL, providing an international network of activists committed to the goal of banning land mines everywhere.

According to UNICEF statistics, at the end of last year (1996) there were more than 110 million land mines planted in 64 separate countries. They cause about 800 deaths per month, mostly civilians. Thousands are maimed. Among the most heavily mined countries are Egypt, Iran, Angola, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. In each of them there are millions of mines scattered over the territory, posing a daily threat to ordinary people.

After having simmered for years, the campaign to ban land mines gained momentum in America after U. S. soldiers bean arriving in Bosnia in 1995. Several soldiers were wounded then by the mines.

Subsequently, the ICBL successfully influenced many countries to prohibit the export of land mines. Several countries began destroying their stockpiles of mines and many others pledged to support an international treaty banning the mines altogether.

More recently, the campaign has taken an emotional momentum since the death of Britain's Princes Diana, an anti-mine campaigner who visited Angola and Bosnia in a highly publicized tours and met blast victims shortly before she died in a car crash.

Last month, an international conference held in Norway's capital Oslo endorsed a treaty banning the mines. Representatives of more than 90 countries said they would sign a final global ban treaty in Ottawa, Canada, in December.

But the United States as well as several military powers such as Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel declined to take part in that treaty. Unfortunately, these are the main producers of land mines.

The U. S. refused to give its support because an immediate implementation of the ban could expose American soldiers in places such as Korea to unnecessary risks.

"There is a line I simply cannot cross," said President Bill Clinton in mid-September in justifying the U. S. position. "And that line is the safety and security of our men and women in uniform."

But, while refusing to bow to international pressure, Clinton ordered the U. S. military to develop alternatives that would make land mines obsolete by the year 2006. He also pledged to help de-mining efforts in several countries of Africa and proposed a major (25 percent) increase in U. S. founding for de-mining operations everywhere.

The United States is also participating in negotiations on banning land mines through a U. N conference in Geneva.

The Nobel Peace Prize is certain to strengthen the movement toward a global land mines ban.

Last month the ICBL coordinator and current co-recipient of the prize Jody Williams was reported to have said in Oslo that "What has been achieved here (at the conference endorsing the ban) shows that smaller states and non-governmental organizations can work together to respond speedily to global crises."

Today's announcement confirms the international recognition of those efforts.