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"People power" key to mine ban

"People power" key to mine ban

"PEOPLE power" will bring about a universal ban on land mines, not negotiations

by diplomats, says Sister Denise Coghlan, who chairs the Cambodian chapter of the

International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

Coglan is now leading a delegation of five Cambodian amputees in Switzerland, attending

a ten-day international conference where 40 countries are reviewing the 1980 Conventional

Weapons Convention (CWC).

Coghlan, who heads the Jesuit Service-Cambodia, said in a statement faxed to The

Post from Geneva: "We are pessimistic about the review process. But we are very

optimistic about the people power behind the movement to bring about a universal

ban on land mines."

"The negotiations between diplomats here are happening inside a glass house,

in a city where one meal costs much more than the salary of one Cambodian government


"Their only touch with reality is the sight of the amputees from Cambodia and

Mozambique, but at least the poorer countries recognize this reality."

Before Coghlan and the Cambodian delegation left for Geneva on Apr 21, at Pochentong

airport they discussed what they hoped to bring back.

"What we are hoping for is that the countries attending the conference will

decide to ban landmines," said Coghlan.

"Now, we've got 29 countries which have called for the total ban. The last to

do so - just this week - were Germany (a former producer of landmines) and Australia."

At press time, Liechtenstein became the thirtieth country to add its name to the

list which, three years ago, was non-existent.

Members of the group said they hoped that the conference would lead to a revision

of the 1980 convention so that its provisions on land mines would apply to civil

wars, not just wars between nations.

They added that ICBL was determined to persuade the leaders of the great powers to

do away with all forms of anti-personnel mines, and to convince them to launch a

comprehensive ban without delay.

Britain and the United States, for instance, have respectively proposed that "smart"

self-destruct mines be used instead and that a 14-year phase-out period for APMs

be established.

The delegation flew away armed with a 187,000 signature petition collected since

the first round of the review conference, in Vienna last September. More than 485,000

Cambodians had now signed the petition to ban APMs, said Sok Eng, the coordinator

for the local campaign.

At Geneva, throughout the first five days, the Cambodian amputees made their presence

felt, Coghlan said.

On Apr 23, they handed out 13,700 roses. Each bore the name of those around the globe

who had been killed by mines, since the Vienna session broke up on Oct 13.

The Cambodians also took part in the unveiling of "The Wall of Remembrance",

a photographic exhibition which commemorates those victims.

Speaking at the ceremony marking this occasion, Tun Channareth appealed to rich countries

to consider the effects of landmines in poor countries and to promptly implement

a ban.

"If you don't ban land mines soon, in the next 50 years my country will be entirely

full of disabled people."

Bjorn Ljungqvist, UNICEF's Cambodian country representative, said he did not believe

the Geneva meeting would lead to an international ban on the production, sale, transfer,

stockpiling, and deployment of APMs. However, in his view, the work of citizen-based

movements such as ICBL was important in focusing worldwide attention on how mines

affect children everywhere.

"Of all the weapons that have accumulated over years of war, few are more persistent

and more lethal to children than land mines," he said.

According to a new study undertaken by UNICEF, for each Cambodian child there are

at least two land mines. At least 20 percent of children who step on mines will die.

Friedrun Medert, country representative of the International Committee for the Red

Cross (ICRC), said: "I would hope that they will achieve a universal ban on

land mines, but, unfortunately, I'm not very optimistic. What I think is good about

this conference - and that's very personal - is that it has brought back the issue

of landmines to the minds of people all over the world."

"When you think that the first leg of the conference took place in September-October

of last year, where only nine countries supported the total ban on landmines. Now,

there are already 30."

"The International Committee of the Red Cross is the guardian of international

humanitarian law. This is mainly embodied in the four Geneva conventions. One of

the basic rules of these conventions - and 186 states are parties to this convention

- says that at all times there must be a difference made between combatants and non-combatants.

Mines do not make this difference."

"Officially Cambodia has joined the list of countries that support a ban on

land mines. We welcome this very much, but we understand that more has to be done.

It is not enough to make a statement. We recommend, for example, that existing stocks

should be destroyed. National legislation banning the use of landmines should also

be introduced.

An ICRC-commissioned study - the first of its kind - into the effectiveness of APMs

in warfare and their impact on civilian life says: "Mines were used in all phases

of the wars in Indochina. Initially laid by the French forces, they were later dropped

from the air by the US Air Force in support of ground troops. Neither the French,

North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, Americans or Australians kept full records of

their minefields... In general, mines were not marked, especially the many tons of

mines and sub-munitions dropped on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam, Cambodia, and


"Government calls for bans on landmines and the destruction of mine stocks have

coincided with... laborious clearance by humanitarian organizations. Despite the

recent restoration of peace, both the government and the Khmer Rouge have apparently

continued mining. There has been a reported increase in the number of casualties

in 1994 as compared with 1991."

The ICRC report concludes: "The limited military utility of Anti-Personnel mines

is far outweighed by the appalling humanitarian consequences of their use in actual

conflicts. On this basis their prohibition and elimination should be pursued as a

matter of utmost urgency by governments and the entire international community.


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