B ACKERS of a global treaty to ban landmines called its Sept 17 adoption "a gift
to the world." That gift is especially welcome in heavily-mined Cambodia, where
hundreds of people are killed and injured by the devices every year.
"Realistically, the treaty accomplished important things: first, it created
a huge amount of international recognition for the problem, and second, it is beginning
to create an international stigma," said Emma Leslie, press officer of the Cambodia
Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Representatives from 89 countries met for three weeks in Oslo, Norway, to hammer
out and endorse a treaty banning the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of
antipersonnel mines. The treaty will be formally signed in Ottawa, Canada this December,
and supporters hope it will enter into force before the year 2000.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a worldwide coalition of over 1000 NGOs
in over 60 countries, was a key proponent of the ban. Coordinator Jody Williams said
Oslo produced "a treaty of which we can all be proud... Indeed, we believe it
is a gift to the world."
Chim Kong, 20, a shop assistant at the National Center for Disabled People, was part
of the Cambodian delegation to the conference. She stepped on a mine eight years
ago, and has become an active voice in the crusade, including asking late landmine
campaigner Princess Diana for her help in Cambodia at a June meeting in Washington,
"I think the ban is good," Kong said. "The mines make it very difficult
for people in Cambodia."
Despite the jubiliation of treaty supporters, demining experts working here are more
cautious about the real impact of the ban.
"Any legislation that contributes to stopping the manufacture and deployment
of mines has got to be a good thing," said Piers Zog of the demining agency
The Halo Trust. "But the mines are still in the ground, and the vast majority
are Chinese and Russian... What mine-clearing organizations would most like to see
is the US, Vietnam, Russia and China - to name the four worst offenders - signing
Vietnam, Russia and China did not attend the Oslo conference. The United States attended,
but after unsuccessfully lobbying for an exception which would allow the use of so-called
"smart" mines in South Korea, refused to endorse the final document.
Emma Leslie acknowledged the treaty's limitations. "It's a piece of paper. It's
not everything, but it's a beginning."
She added that now treaty supporters can concentrate on other processes, including
trying to address the problem of mine use by non-state actors, such as the Khmer
Rouge, and to generate more attention and funding for demining activities.
The Cambodian Mine Action Center, the government demining agency, estimates that
it will take 25 to 30 years to clear Cambodia of mines, according to an agency spokesman.
CMAC believes there are four to six million mines in the ground, while The Halo Trust
gives a figure of around one million. The Cambodia Campaign reports that 167 people
have been killed and 667 injured by mines this year.