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U.S. should accelerate land mine phase out



Published: Wed, August 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



When the Clinton administration declined to sign the treaty banning land mines nearly four years ago, the president promised that by 2006 the United States would sign the treaty, after the Defense Department had developed an alternative weapon. But now President Bush has decided to back away from the treaty altogether. How can the U.S. -- or the other 117 nations that have ratified the treaty -- bring pressure to bear on Russia and China to stop manufacturing and selling the weapons that continue to maim and kill civilians long after their military use has past, when America will not participate?

Paul V. Kelly, head of the State Department's legislative affairs bureau, said that the department believes that land mine policy should be left & quot;to our colleagues in the Department of Defense for their determination and judgment." The nation's foreign policy should not be given to the Defense Department, carte blanche.

Child mortality: Of all the weapons that have accumulated over years of war, few are more persistent and more lethal to children than land mines. Hundreds of thousands of children, tending farm animals, planting crops or just playing, have been killed or maimed by these deadly devices that take a greater toll on children's little bodies than they do on adults.

In the past 25 years, land mines have exploded under more than 1 million people and may still be killing hundreds a month -- even in areas where "official" warfare has long-since ended. The land mines that the United States uses to protect armed services personnel in Korea are considered "smart" mines because they must be reactivated. But most of the estimated 100 million still just under the surface in Africa, Asia and the Balkans will remain active for decades.

Complicating the problem, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, is that the weapons typically cost between $3 to $15 each, but clearing them can cost more than $1,000 per unit.

Surely, advanced American technology can develop an alternative to anti-personnel land mines that would then allow this nation to join most of the rest of the world in agreeing to ban a weapon whose lingering consequences harm the most vulnerable.




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