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United states skips landmine conference { November 28 2004 }

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Published on Sunday, November 28, 2004 by the Agence France Presse
Landmines Among 'Most Pressing Humanitarian Issues of Our Time'

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki appealed to non-signatories to the treaty banning antipersonnel mines to join the Ottawa Convention, saying "we must not rest until every landmine is destroyed."

"I appeal to those countries that are not party to the 1997 Ottawa Convention to join and destroy the stockpiles of landmines," Kibaki told nearly 1,000 delegates to the opening session of a summit on the weapons that kill or maim a person every 22 minutes somewhere in the world, on average.

The conference is the first review of progress in ridding the world of anti-personnel mines since the convention, formally called the 1997 Land Mine Ban, took effect in 1999.

"The problem of anti-personnel landmines is one of the most pressing humanitarian and developmental issues of our time," Kibaki said, warning: "Unless all the existing stocks are destroyed and unless production of these lethal weapons is brought to an end, the threat posed by landmines will continue to be with us," he said.

"We must not rest until every landmine is destroyed. In this regard, it is also necessary to increase funding levels for mine action, if the momentum is to be sustained," Kibaki said.

"Above all, we must intensify conflict resolution efforts, as conflicts create conditions for production and use of anti-personnel mines.

"Let us bear in mind that poverty breeds conflicts and the large number of conflicts in Africa is a clear case in point," Kibaki said.

He noted however: "All but four African states are party to the Convention. This is a clear demonstration of the continent's commitment to destroy all stockpiles of landmines."

The Kenyan leader also called for a reduction in defence spending, while increasing development assistance to poor and needy countries.

Kibaki declared the week-long summit open at Kenyatta International Conference Centre in the centre of the city, before the delegates from 143 countries move on Monday to UN offices in Nairobi for its remaining sessions.

Notably absent among the hundreds of diplomats, campaigners and mine survivors in the Kenyan capital for the conference were any official US delegates.

Actor Danny Glover, making his first trip as a goodwill ambassador the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), lamented: "As a citizen of the US, I feel embarrassed and angry that they didn't ratify" the treaty, which bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel mines and calls for mined areas to be cleared within 10 years.

"It was irresponsible on my country's part," he said while visiting a school in northern Ethiopia, one of the most mined parts of a heavily mined continent. "I can't accept that children still suffer from the consequences of a war while they have nothing to do with it."

The United States is one of 42 countries, including Russia and China, that have refused to sign the treaty, citing the need to protect their troops. More than 140 other nations have signed the treaty.

Washington wants a broader ban covering all types of mines, including antivehicle mines that have been used with devastating effect by its forces in Iraq. It has also agreed to remove mines that do not self-destruct or which cannot be detected from its own arsenal over the next six years.

Washington has also pledged to be "a strong partner" in trying to prevent humanitarian tragedies caused by landmines.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) said progress in ridding the world of mines has been encouraging, but gaps in providing assistance to survivors and the slow pace of mine clearance are two weak spots in the effort.

Between 1999 and 2003, more than four million antipersonnel mines were destroyed, according to the 2004 Landmine Monitor Report compiled by the ICBL.

But millions of mines remain in the earth, making whole areas uninhabitable.

The world's 300,000 to 400,000 landmine survivors are spread over at least 121 countries.

"There is much to celebrate," said Peter Herby, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross's Mines-Arms Unit. But "huge challenges nevertheless remain.

"The Nairobi summit must ensure that affected countries meet their mine clearance deadlines and that mine victims experience real improvements in their lives," he added.

"An ambitious action plan from Nairobi is crucial to ensure that the global commitment to a world free of antipersonnel mines is fulfilled," he said.

Copyright 2004 AFP

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