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PRESS BRIEFING ON ANTI-PERSONNEL MINE CONVENTION

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

20 April 1999

Landmines must continue to be an international priority until all anti- personnel mines had been eliminated and their victims had reclaimed their lives, the Permanent Representative of Mozambique to the United Nations, Carlos Dos Santos, told a press briefing at Headquarters this morning.

The briefing was held to provide correspondents with details of the impending first meeting of the States parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Their Destruction (Ottawa Convention). Canada's Permanent Representative, Robert Fowler, and the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala, also addressed the briefing.

The meeting of States parties will take place in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, from 3 to 7 May, Mr. Dos Santos explained. Confirmation of participation had been received from States parties to the Convention, from States that had signed, but not yet ratified it, and from observer States -- those that had not signed. Having celebrated the Convention's entry into force on 1 March 1999, the next important stage of the battle against mines was the Maputo meeting. The meeting was provided for in the text of the Convention, he said.

It had great significance because it was the first such meeting and because it was to take place in a mine-affected country, he continued. Mozambique was a vivid example of the impact of anti-personnel mines. That the meeting was to be held in Maputo was also a recognition of the Mozambican Government's unflinching commitment to deal with all aspects of the problem. In addition, Mozambique was in the most affected continent -- Africa. The international community had decided to assist Africa in its endeavours to address landmines and to promote international cooperation in the field.

While the rapid entry into force of the Convention was cause to celebrate, he said, the true value of the Convention would be demonstrated through its accelerated and sustained implementation. It should be implemented quickly through the establishment of mechanisms and action programmes with specific time horizons. He hoped that the meeting would call on all signatories to promptly ratify the Convention, and it would call on those who had not yet signed to do so and implement its provisions.

He hoped the meeting would deplore the continued use of anti-personnel mines, he said. Participants should also address the challenges ahead, notably mine clearance and awareness, victim assistance and socio-economic reintegration, destruction of stockpiles, technologies for mine action, and capacity-building in mine-affected countries. Those would help make mine action durable. The meeting would also discuss ways of maintaining international momentum on the issue.

The media had an important role, both at the meeting in Maputo and in subsequent work to eliminate anti-personnel landmines, he said. It had helped the campaign reach its current stage, and he hoped correspondents would continue to push the issue. He referred them to the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) for details of the meeting and registration forms. Mozambique's Permanent Mission to the United Nations would also offer correspondents what assistance it could, he said in conclusion.

Mr. Fowler, Canada's Permanent Representative, said that, since the Ottawa conference 18 months ago, 135 countries had signed the Convention and 74 had ratified it. He hoped that between now and the Maputo meeting even more would do so. The Convention's impact was clear. The 74 countries that had ratified it had undertaken to: eliminate their stockpiles over the next four years; complete demining of their countries in the next ten years; end their use, fabrication and trade in anti-personnel mines; and come to the aid of landmine victims. His Government had been one of the first to sign and ratify the Convention and it was now working with others towards full and rapid implementation.

There were reasons for optimism and for continued concern about implementation, he continued. He was gravely concerned by reports of continued use of landmines in Kosovo and Angola. However, the large scale and sustained use of anti-personnel landmines that happened in the 1980s and early 1990s had all but ended and the once flourishing trade in anti-personnel mines had also ended. The destruction of stockpiles of mines had begun and over 14 million stockpiled mines had been destroyed by 20 countries since 1996. Those 14 million mines would never take a life or a limb, nor would they need to be cleared at great expense and danger.

Mine action rates had fallen dramatically in most of the world's mine- affected countries, he said. In Afghanistan and Cambodia, the rates of mine actions had dropped by almost 50 per cent over the past five years. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the accident rates had dropped from 55 per month in 1995 to seven per month in 1998.

Progress was also evident on the mine clearance and assistance fronts, he said. In Cambodia, 23 per cent of the land thought to be mined had been cleared. In Afghanistan, approximately 64 per cent of mined residential areas and irrigation systems had been cleared. Three new centres had opened to service mine victims in Mozambique over the past three years, and two more were planned. In Bosnia, 38 new mine victim clinics had been set up, as part of the World Bank's war victim programme. Much had been done, but much remained. However, overall, he believed that a new global norm on anti- personnel landmines was developing.

Even countries that had not signed the Convention were undertaking positive steps, he said. The United States continued to be a major supporter and contributor to mine action programmes, and its President had indicated that his country would sign the Convention by 2006, if alternatives were found. Russia had declared a moratorium on the export of mines. China had halted the export of anti-personnel landmines and, in addition to undertaking massive clearance of the minefield on its border with Vietnam, had made a major contribution to the United Nations fund for mine action.

The next step in the Ottawa process, the Maputo conference, would serve to further mobilize the political will behind the Convention, he said. It would also catalyze action for more signatures and ratifications and take practical steps across the mine action front. The Canadian delegation would be led by the Foreign Minister, accompanied by five parliamentarians.

Mr. Dhanapala, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, explained that under the Ottawa Convention the Secretary-General was the depository for the Convention. The way in which the Convention was concluded and the short time it had taken to enter into force had captured the imagination of the world. He drew correspondents' attention to the DPI press release, which contained background information on the meeting. The Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, would represent the United Nations in Maputo. Ten days ago, the host country agreement, which customarily provided the legal framework for arranging conference facilities, had been signed by the Government of Mozambique and the Under-Secretary-General.

The costs of the meeting were entirely borne by the parties to the Convention, he said, and by those who were attending. It was, therefore, not a United Nations conference, per se, although under agreements with the parties to the Convention the United Nations would be servicing it. Various United Nations departments would be represented, including DPI, whose representative would make press accreditation arrangements.

Thus far, 37 States that had ratified the Convention would be present, he said, as would 21 States that had signed, but not ratified it. Eight States that had neither ratified nor signed would also be there, in addition to non-governmental organizations and intergovernmental bodies. Twenty-eight Foreign Ministers or Deputy Foreign Ministers were scheduled to speak. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the body that had played such a key role in concluding the Convention, would be present, as would the International Committee for the Red Cross.

A number of pre-session documents, such as a draft agenda, a programme of work, rules of procedures and so on, had already been issued in Geneva and would be provided to Permanent Missions to the United Nations in New York in the next few days, he said. The programme of work would include three plenary meetings for a general exchange of views, and plenaries on specific issues. It being the first meeting of the States parties, the States parties would be expected to arrive at arrangements for future meetings.

Mr. Fowler said he had previously mentioned Kosovo and Angola, in response to a correspondent's request for information on sources of concern. There had been various rumours about the use of landmines in Kosovo, some of which had been denied. The situation in Angola was dire. There were about 800,000 internally-displaced persons as a result of the current conflict there. That huge population was moving across contested areas, which he understood were being mined by both sides to the conflict. Access by humanitarian agencies was extremely limited, so he could only imagine the horrors those people were facing.

He did not have a list of "misbehavers", he added. In the main, the news was good and the figures spoke for themselves.

Asked about the level of contributions to support mine-related activities, Mr. Dhanapala said that he believed the level of assistance received for the work of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was satisfactory.

Mr. Dos Santos added that the challenge was enormous in all affected countries and no amount of financing would be enough. His country appreciated the assistance it received from cooperating partners, but it believed more could be done. One of the reasons for holding the meeting in Mozambique was to allow people to see the impact of landmines in a mine-affected country. There would be visits to affected areas and he believed a touch of reality would help in raising awareness and assistance. Landmines were easy to plant and difficult to demine. The cost of demining was 300 times the cost of planting mines in Mozambique.

Mr. Fowler said that, thankfully, the world had not yet moved on from its concern about landmines. He hoped it would not. The principal donors that had supported efforts since the beginning were still involved and had been extremely generous. The Maputo meeting was evidence of the global commitment and of an interest in sustaining it. It was important that interest be maintained, as, despite positive developments, the challenge remained daunting.

Asked how prominently re-mining would be on the conference's agenda, Mr. Dos Santos said he expected a delegation from Angola would attend the conference. Angola had signed the Convention, and he thought that indicated that the Angolan Government was interested in abiding by the terms of the Convention. He was sure that Angola would have a chance to discuss the re- mining of its territory at the meeting.

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