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Swiss see progress in fight against landmines

Demining costs over $300 million a year Keystone

Switzerland says further headway has been made in the struggle to rid the world of anti-personnel mines at the end of a weeklong international meeting in Geneva.

But Swiss diplomat Jürg Streuli warned that decreased funding for demining and victim support remained a real concern.

Streuli was speaking on Friday at the close of the seventh annual meeting of signatories to the 1997 Ottawa Convention on banning landmines, which drew delegates from more than 100 countries.

A key aim of the conference was to agree a procedure for dealing with extension requests to the ten-year deadline for mine clearance mandated by the treaty.

With some countries clearly not in a position to meet their commitments, delegates spent the week thrashing out conditions under which states can request and be granted more time.

“The problem is that there is an obligation to demine within ten years, but on the other hand we know some countries really can’t do it,” Streuli, the Swiss ambassador for disarmament, told swissinfo.

“So we have to address this problem without allowing other countries, who could do it but maybe don’t make the necessary efforts, to get away with it.”

The Swiss delegation to the conference also noted that progress had been made in the area of victim support. This year Switzerland is acting as co-president, along with Afghanistan, of the convention’s standing committee on mine-victim assistance.

First aid

Among the advances highlighted by Streuli was the approval by bodies such as Médecins sans Frontières and the World Health Organization of a leaflet setting out best practice for first-aid treatment of landmine victims.

It was also decided that there needed to be better cooperation among government departments to help mine victims and that more should be done to ensure they were socially and economically integrated.

On the issue of funding for demining and victim support, which fell $23 million (SFr28 million) to $376 million last year, Streuli explained that this was not the main aim of the conference.

But he said Switzerland would continue to maintain its contribution – SFr15 million last year – while at the same time hoping that “the others will do so as well”.

“We noted that funding is stagnating and we have to increase efforts to get more money,” he said.

Stephen Goose, head of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines delegation, said he was happy with the way the week had gone, especially on establishing a framework for mine clearance extensions. But he was not as upbeat as the Swiss about support for mine victims.

“The one area that we’re least happy about is victim assistance. Not because of anything that the Swiss have done or not done as co-chairs, but just because it is such a hard area to make progress in,” said Goose. “There is a huge need for better plans, better coordination and more funding.”

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

Last year more land – 740 square kilometres – was cleared of mines than ever before.
More than 470,000 landmines were removed and destroyed.
But the number of reported casualties rose 11% to more than 7,300.
A total of 151 countries have ratified or acceded to the convention.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) said there had been several encouraging announcements during the week: Macedonia finished mine clearance; Latvia completed stockpile destruction; two countries – Macedonia and Moldova – said they were destroying mines retained for training purposes.

The ICBL said Indonesia and Palau had announced they would be joining the treaty shortly. It was also pleased that several non-state parties had been in Geneva as observers, including Pakistan – for the first time – China, India, Iraq and Myanmar.

The Ottawa Convention, which was adopted in 1997, prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR