Wed, Sep 01, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Nine Asian nations make or use land mines, group says


Fewer countries are producing land mines than five years ago, but they remain a major concern in Asia, where nine nations continue to make them or allow their use, a watchdog group said.

A 1997 treaty to ban the devices has been ratified or supported by 143 countries ahead of a review meeting in Nairobi later this year, Susan Walker of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines said on Monday.

The agreement was reached in Ottawa, Canada, with the goal of prohibiting the use, stockpil-ing, production and transfer of anti-personnel land mines. The treaty calls for countries to begin eradicating land mines within a decade.

"Five years ago, we identified 55 (land mine) producing countries, and there are only 15 producing countries remaining," she told reporters.

She said China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam have failed to stop making or to ban the use of land mines.

"This is a huge humanitarian problem," she said.

Other countries designated as land mine producers include the US, Russia, Cuba, Egypt and Iran, according to a report released last year by the group, which won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

Walker made the comments after the opening of a three-day anti-land mine workshop hosted by Thailand, the first country in Southeast Asia to sign the treaty. The meeting aims to prepare regional delegates for the Nairobi summit from Nov. 29 through Dec. 3.

The Nairobi meeting "will be the most important event in the life of this convention since 1997 -- it is halfway to the first deadlines for clearance of mined areas, which will occur for several dozen countries in 2009," Walker said.

Walker said in the past five years, exports of land mines have virtually stopped and some 37 million of the weapons have been destroyed by countries that have adopted the 1997 convention.

But "there are still millions left to destroy," Walker said.

Emilie Ketudat, a representative of Jesuit Refugee Services Thailand and a coordinator for the ICBL, said more than a half-million people in 27 of Thailand's 76 provinces were affected by land mines, according to a 2001 survey funded by the Thai government.

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