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Fight against landmines goes on

Up to 80 million anti-personnel mines are hidden around the world Keystone

To mark the first international day against landmines on Tuesday, Switzerland has pledged to continue efforts to eliminate this hidden threat to life and limb.

This content was published on April 4, 2006 - 08:06

According to the Landmine Monitor Report, mines and unexploded ordinance kill or maim between 15,000 and 20,000 adults and children a year.

Speaking in Geneva on Monday, Swiss diplomat Jürg Streuli said landmines remained a major problem worldwide despite the 1997 Ottawa Convention, which prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines.

He said there were still 40-80 million anti-personnel mines in the ground and more than 100 million held in stockpiles around the world.

"Even though there are fewer victims today, the [total] number of victims is increasing and will continue to increase for some time to come," said Streuli, who is Swiss ambassador to the UN in Geneva.

He noted that 149 countries – including Switzerland – had signed the treaty to date, which represented a "fantastic success".

But he regretted that some of the biggest producers of landmines, the United States, China, Russia and a number of Middle Eastern countries, had yet to ratify it.

Victim assistance

This year Switzerland, along with Afghanistan, is co-chairing the Ottawa Convention's committee for victim assistance. Priorities for 2006 include securing better access to quality first aid and improved cooperation among landmine-affected countries.

Streuli said the Swiss were committing SFr16 million ($12.3 million) in 2006 to demining activities and rehabilitation programmes for victims.

Switzerland is also among a group of nations pushing for action on unexploded ordinance, in particular cluster munitions.

Up to 30 per cent of cluster bombs failed to detonate in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq, and because of their unstable nature are now de facto anti-personnel devices, according to anti-mine campaigners. They want these munitions banned.

Cluster munitions

The Swiss, however, would like to see stricter rules on cluster weapons included in the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

"Our position in the framework of international negotiations is to arrive at a convention which bans unsafe munitions and establishes very clear rules on their use in populated areas," Streuli told swissinfo.

Elisabeth Reusse-Decrey, president and founder of Swiss anti-mine group Geneva Call, added that more also needed to be done to tackle the issue of "non-state actors" and landmines.

Research carried out by Geneva Call last year found that more rebel groups than governments were using anti-personnel mines.

"If we want to arrive at a world without mines the only way forward is to address all those who use them, including non-state armed groups," she said.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

Key facts

The Ottawa Convention was opened to signing in December 1997.
It came into force on March 1, 1999.
The treaty prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines.
This year's meeting of signatory states will be held in Geneva in September.

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In brief

Switzerland was one of the first countries to sign the Ottawa treaty and has destroyed its stock of around 3.8 million anti-personnel mines.

Half the SFr16 million allocated by the Swiss government to the fight against landmines goes to the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining and the rest goes to Swiss projects and non-governmental organisations.

Geneva Call, which receives SFr450,000 from the government, operates its own "deed of commitment" inviting rebel groups to sign up to the norms embodied in the Ottawa Convention.

Twenty-eight armed groups in Africa, Asia and the Middle East have already agreed to ban anti-personnel mines through this mechanism.

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