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Record area cleared of landmines but use at 7-year high - report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 23 Nov 2011 04:42 PM
Author: Thin Lei Win
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BANGKOK (AlertNet) - Use of landmines is at a seven-year high as more states lay them, even though record donor funding last year helped clear the largest-ever area of contaminated land, according to a new global report.

Landmine Monitor 2011 said $637 million in funding, including $480 million from international donors, enabled the clearance of some 415,000 antipersonnel and anti-vehicle mines from at least 200 square kilometres of contaminated land – an area five times the size of Paris. In addition, 1.2 million items of unexploded ordnance were reportedly cleared from 460 square kilometres of former battle terrain, which did not contain mines.

The largest areas cleared were in Afghanistan and Cambodia.

But Israel, Libya, Myanmar and possibly Syria – all of which are not party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty – have laid new antipersonnel mines in 2011, with their use surpassing the previous seven years. The 2010 report named only Myanmar as using landmines.

Non-state armed groups in Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar and Pakistan also laid new mines, the report said.

“That’s not good news. It’s a brutal weapon. We don’t want to see any use of antipersonnel mines,” Mary Wareham, a Human Rights Watch senior advisor and the report’s policy editor, told journalists in Bangkok on Wednesday.

Landmines, cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance claim thousands of lives every year. They pose a serious threat years after war has ended, staying in the soil for decades and killing or maiming civilians, who account for most of the casualties.

Of the 4,191 victims recorded in 2010 – a slight increase from 4,010 in 2009 – civilians made up 70 percent.  With over a quarter of the victims, Afghanistan has the highest casualties. Currently 72 countries and seven disputed areas spread across all four continents are contaminated with the weapons.

COUNTRIES STILL LAYING MINES

Myanmar’s nominally civilian government, which took power in March, has been praised for its tentative reforms, and Southeast Asian nations last week endorsed its bid for the chairmanship of their regional group in 2014.

Yet there has been little change in the way antipersonnel mines are being used on the ground by both government forces and ethnic armed groups, said Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, a regional expert on landmines and cluster munitions.  

While recent peace talks are positive, “We would like to see a ban on mines be part of a ceasefire agreement,” he added.

Government army units have laid mines in numerous parts of the country since the Landmine Monitor began reporting in 1999, and Myanmar is also one of three countries, together with India and Pakistan, still actively producing antipersonnel mines, the report said.  

The report team said it expects a Myanmar delegation to attend next week’s 11th meeting of the state parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in Cambodia.

In Libya, the use of landmines was limited to the fallen Gaddafi regime which had accumulated hundreds of thousands of landmines, Wareham said.

“We believe that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of mines were laid by the Gaddafi forces, which is going to cause a huge problem for the years to come in Libya,” she added.

Israel laid landmines in the Golan Heights along the border with Syria, and Syria’s reported use of mines along its border with Lebanon occurred as the monitor went to print.

Around 80 percent of the world’s nations, or 158 countries, have joined the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Russia and the United States are among the 39 countries that have not signed up.

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