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World: Campaigners Press For Landmine Destruction

By Katya Gorchinskaya

Kyiv, 26 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Last year's Nobel Prize winner, Jody Williams, is visiting Ukraine in a bid to persuade the government to join her effort to ban landmines worldwide.

The campaign, started in Canada, has already attracted 126 countries that signed an agreement last year to destroy their mines. Under this agreement, countries are committed to get rid of all their mines within four years. Ukraine has not joined this agreement so far, but has recently been destroying some of its mines. According to Williams, 1,100 mines have so far been destroyed out of the country's estimated ten-million.

Williams said the number is but "a drop in the ocean." Still, she said she believes the country understands the issue and is very interested in continuing the process.

Williams and fellow activists from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines yesterday met several Cabinet officials, including Presidential Chief-of-Staff Yevhen Kushnaryov and Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk. They also met Afgan war veterans, activist groups and students.

Williams said the government members she met showed an interest in continuing disarmament, and even joining the anti-mine agreement. But she said they wanted to make sure they receive adequate support from the international community to provide them with the resources to comply with terms of the treaty.

Canadian Ambassador Christopher Westdal said that Ukraine's failure to sign the anti-mine treaty would be inconsistent with the country's record of disarmament and peacekeeping. Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has destroyed or exported all of its nuclear weapons, and has participated in many peace keeping efforts across the globe.

Williams will continue her peace mission in Russia, which also has a large number of mines to be destroyed.

Russian news agencies (Interfax/Itar-Tass) yesterday quoted the Defense Ministry as saying that Russia has decided to destroy up to half-a-million anti-personnel mines this year, in addition to an earlier approved target for 1998. The country's industry is reported already to have processed more than 80,000 such mines. The ministry said Russia could n-o-t destroy all its mines at once, primarily due to, what it called, "financial and technical reasons."

Estimates suggest that developing alternative weapons and accumulating their minimum reserves would take at least ten years.

About 100 delegates from the Commonwealth of Independent states and Baltic countries are due to convene in Moscow tomorrow for a three-day conference -- the theme of which is about taking steps toward a future without landmines.

According to United Nations' estimates, land mines kill 26,000 people every year, and around 100-million mines are buried in more than 60 countries all over the world.