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Swiss call for concerted action on landmines

Around 470,000 landmines were cleared worldwide last year

(Keystone)

Switzerland has reaffirmed its commitment to eradicating anti-personnel mines ahead of a meeting in Geneva to review progress on eliminating their use.

A report published last week noted that while more land was cleared of mines in 2005 than ever before, the number of victims rose by 11 per cent to more than 7,300.

"A lot has been achieved but there is still much more to do. It's certainly not the moment to give up," said Ambassador Anton Thalmann, under-state secretary at the Swiss foreign ministry.

Thalmann told a news conference on Monday that Switzerland was proud to host for the third time the annual conference of the Ottawa Convention, which calls for a global ban on anti-personnel mines.

More than 700 delegates from over 100 countries, along with representatives from dozens of non-governmental organisations, have gathered in the western Swiss city for five days of talks.

Thalmann highlighted a number of successes since the convention had come into force in 1999. He noted that 40 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines had been destroyed, including one million in Switzerland.

He pointed out that more than 30 million people had received mine risk education training and that tens of thousands of survivors and their families had received assistance.

But at the same time he stressed that the task was "far from completed" and that important challenges remained.

Challenges ahead

According to Thalmann, anti-personnel mines still contaminate the soil of more than 80 countries, numerous arsenals have not been destroyed and more than 40 countries have not joined the convention.

Three of these – Myanmar, Nepal and Russia – used landmines during armed conflicts last year.

Thalmann said Switzerland invested around $12 million (SFr15 million) a year in humanitarian demining, mine victim assistance, mine risk education and advocacy programmes.

"Switzerland will maintain its commitment," he said.

On the subject of cluster bombs, which continue to pose a major threat in Iraq and Lebanon, the ambassador said the government was pushing for a separate convention to regulate their use, including banning them from civilian areas.

The Swiss also want the quality of cluster munitions to be improved to ensure a "dud" rate of less than 1-2 per cent, and for them to include an auto-destruct device.

Some experts have said that up to 30 per cent of the cluster munitions dropped by Israel in Lebanon failed to explode. Unexploded ordnance has killed 14 people and left 79 injured.

Persuasion

The president of the conference, Teresa Gambaro, Australia's parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, said her country would continue to try to persuade those that have not signed the treaty to do so.

Among those that have so far failed to join are the United States, China, India, Iran, Israel and Sri Lanka.

Gambaro pointed out that while the US had not signed the treaty, it was active in mine clearance and had given close to $1 billion.

The conference comes at a time of declining funding for demining and victim support. This fell to $376 million in 2005 – $23 million less than the previous year.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

In brief

The annual conference of the Ottawa Convention will now take place every two years in Geneva, cementing the city's status as the capital of humanitarian and mine action.

This year Switzerland is acting as co-president, along with Afghanistan, of the convention's standing committee on mine-victim assistance.

Mine action is an integral part of Swiss peace and humanitarian security policy, and the government supports demining projects in more than 20 countries.

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Ottawa Convention

The convention was adopted in Oslo, Norway, in September 1997 and came into force two years later. The treaty prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines.

Its purpose is "to put an end to the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel mines". It has four main aims: universal acceptance of a ban on anti-personnel mines; destruction of stockpiled mines; clearance of mined areas and providing assistance to mine victims.

A total of 151 countries have ratified or acceded to the convention. The convention commits contracting states to clear mined areas within ten years.

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