From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Call-In Day Set to Push For Landmine Ban

Date 23 Nov 1998 20:08:41

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    Call-In Day Set to Push For Landmine Ban 
    by Alexa Smith 
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Dec. 3 has been set as a national call-in day to push 
President Bill Clinton to sign onto an international treaty banning the use 
of land mines, just weeks after rains from Hurricane Mitch loosened and 
scattered approximately 75,000 anti-personnel mines throughout Nicaragua. 
    "Put calls into the president.  Demonstrate that we haven't forgotten 
the issue.  Say that we want him to sign now," said Marissa Vitagliano, 
coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Land mines, a coalition of 300-plus 
groups, who points out that President Bill Clinton's commitment to signing 
the Ottawa Treaty up until now has been conditional at best. 
    The treaty bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of 
anti-personnel landmines. 
    Although the United States government has invested more than $200 
million in landmine removal over the last two years, the president has said 
that the U.S. will probably not sign onto the Ottawa Treaty until 
alternative weapons systems are developed.  Clinton holds out the date of 
2006.  That allows the U.S. military to continue to use mixed mine systems 
which are illegal under the treaty's terms, most particularly, along the 
buffer zone that separates North and South Korea. 
    "Eight years from now," said Vitagliano from her Washington, D.C., 
office, "is too late." 
    Messages instructing the president to "sign the landmine treaty 
immediately," as the campaign's literature puts it, may be left by calling 
the White House comment line at (202) 456-1111 or by sending e-mails to 
    One hundred forty nations have now signed onto the Ottawa Treaty, which 
was drawn up last December.  Signers include traditional U.S. allies such 
as the United Kingdom, South Africa, Vatican City, France, Germany, and, 
ironically enough, Nicaragua, where another 75,000 landmines are still be 
buried, remnants of the 1980s "Contra" wars..  Hold-outs include the U.S., 
Pakistan, China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Republic of Korea and 
the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. 
    The treaty was initiated by a 1996 United Nations General Assembly 
resolution that called for vigorous pursuit of negotiations on a ban treaty 
"as soon as possible." 
     Anti-personnel landmines are usually buried under the ground or 
camouflaged above ground on stakes.  When a victim detonates a landmine - 
either by pulling a trip wire or stepping on the buried mine - the 
explosion may either blow a victim's limbs apart, or, cause injuries severe 
enough to require surgical amputation.  The U.S. Campaign argues that there 
are 60-70 million land mines still scattered through 68 countries. They 
which kill or maim approximately 26,000 people yearly.  Children below the 
age of 15 make up 30-40 percent of the casualties. 
    Handicap International - another vigorous treaty advocate - insists 
that one person gets maimed or killed every 20 minutes by a landmine. 
    "The reports that as many as 75,000 anti-personnel land mines have been 
scattered across Nicaragua by the flooding associated with Mitch compounds 
the suffering of a people coping in the aftermath of the hurricane," said 
Gary Payton, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Peacemaking 
Program and an advocate for demining.  "The event underscores the need for 
even more focused energy on demining across the developing world. 
    "Urging U.S. political leaders to sign and ratify the Ottawa Treaty 
banning the production, sale and use of anti-personnel land mines remains a 
top priority for many persons of faith," said Payton. 
    The 1996 and 1997 General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church 
(U.S.A.) took actions supporting a ban on the use of anti-personnel land 
mines, with the most explicit language used in the 1996 resolution calling 
upon the U.S. to ban production, sale and use of anti-personnel land mines. 
The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program developed an educational resource, "On 
Their Behalf," on the issue and the Presbyterian Washington Office, 
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Presbyterian Women have all worked as 
educators and advocates for the Assembly's position. 
    Countries with uncleared mines include Lebanon, Croatia, Germany, 
Afghanistan, Jordan, Cambodia, Somalia, Cyprus, Angola, Zimbabwe, 
Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica.  It costs about 
$1,000 to remove a mine once it is deployed, but only three to thirty 
dollars to buy one, according to information compiled in "On Their Behalf." 
In Afghanistan alone, it is estimated that there are 10 million mines and 
up to 15 million in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, the former 
Yugoslavia and Angola.  China and Russia are the leading manufacturers of 
land mines. 
    "The locations of land mines in the developing world tend to be known 
locations - but not the specific location of every existing mine," said 
Payton, describing minefields leftover after military conflicts.  "And yes, 
they do go off and surprise people daily." 
    That's what makes the situation in Nicaragua now so much more difficult 
and deadly since  many mines have been washed down mountain slopes and into 
riverbeds - away from identifiable location. According to the Organization 
of American States, the now displaced mines are covered by mud and debris, 
making detection and removal even more complicated. 
    "Because of the mudslides," Vitagliano said, "the land shifted and the 
mines came to surface.  Basically, they were sliding around, floating 
around ... and nobody knows where.  This is very dangerous.  They could 
float into civilian areas." 

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