Move Beyond Paper Treaties and Tackle Landmines Comprehensively, US Says

July 7, 2008 - 7:15 PM

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - The United States has urged nations meeting in Kenya to review progress in eliminating civilian landmine casualties to expand the focus to include eliminating types of mines that pose a greater risk to humanity, but are not subject to the current review.

Officials representing more than 140 nations are meeting to review action on the Ottawa Convention, the treaty banning anti-personnel mines, which entered into force in 1999.

The U.S., which is one of 42 countries that have not signed the convention, is not participating in the summit in Nairobi.

The U.S. declined to sign the treaty because it wanted Korea to be seen as a special case. It argued that the nature of the threat posed by the North Koreans to U.S. forces there, and the peninsula's geography, required that Korea be excluded from the ban until suitable alternatives are available.

The U.S. has come under fire for not signing the treaty but is also praised for its efforts to eliminate minefields and support civilian mine victims.

U.S. assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs Lincoln Bloomfield said nations must move beyond the convention, which "does not represent a complete solution."

"If, as we believe, our shared goal is to solve the totality of the landmine problem, we will need approaches and actions that move beyond the Ottawa Convention by addressing all persistent landmines, regardless of their size," said Bloomfield, who serves as the administration's special representative for mine action.

Persistent landmines remain lethal long after a conflict is over, posing a long-term risk to civilians in the area.

The Ottawa Convention does not cover anti-vehicle landmines and non-detectable landmines, which pose a particular hazard to civilians and to deminers.

U.S. ambassador to Kenya William Bellamy said the U.S. was not participating in the summit "because of concern for our men and women in uniform and because of our security responsibilities around the world to our friends and allies."

One of the problems the U.S. has with the Ottawa Convention is that it seeks to remove all anti-personnel mines, including those designed with a deactivation feature. The U.S. wants to be able to use such mines during conflicts, and then be able to deactivate them so they pose no hazard to civilians afterwards.

Bellamy outlined several anti-landmine initiatives already undertaken by the U.S. despite not being a signatory to the convention.

"In our view, it is time to put aside differences over paper treaties and focus on concrete steps where they are needed most - in the minefields of the world," he said.

In 1992, several years before the convention was signed, the U.S. banned the export of its anti-personnel landmines, Bellamy said.

In 1996, the U.S. began clearing the last permanent minefield that it had laid, on the perimeter of its base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In 1998, the U.S. completed the destruction of more than three million of its persistent anti-personnel landmines, keeping only enough for the defense of South Korea, training and research, he said.

The U.S. has also established the Humanitarian Mine Action Program - the largest of its type in the world - to help mine-affected countries.

The U.S. embassy said the program has so far spent more than $900 million on demining, mine risk education, mine survivors assistance, and research on better ways to detect and clear landmines, in nearly 50 countries worldwide.

Under the program, the tiny Horn of Africa nation Djibouti became the first African nation to be rendered safe from landmines. The U.S. program also enabled Honduras to be declared mine-safe last month, and is helping to reduce landmine problems in Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda and Namibia and southern Sudan, Bellamy said.

According to Bloomfield, current U.S. landmine policy includes an unconditional commitment that U.S. military forces will stop using all persistent landmines, both anti-vehicle and anti-personnel, by the end of 2010.

It will also eliminate from its inventory all non-detectable mines.

The U.S. decision not to attend the conference drew criticism, with some newspaper editorials in Nairobi calling the move arrogant.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said although the U.S. was not attending, it "shares common cause with all those who seek to protect innocent civilians from indiscriminately-used landmines."

Ken Rutherford of the Landmine Survivors Network, a Washington-based group created by and for survivors of landmine accidents, said in Nairobi that the U.S. should sign the treaty, but its anti-mine work around the world should also be acknowledged.

"Shame on the United States for not signing, but congratulations for everything that you're doing to make the world more mine safe in terms of clearing the mines and helping land mine survivors recover from their accidents," the Voice of America quoted Rutherford as saying.

"And shame on those state parties that have signed the treaty but contribute zero to victim assistance or demining," Rutherford added.

(CNSNews International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)

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