UN official says leaders have chance to remove landmines once and for

Urging the world’s leaders to seize the opportunity to remove landmines forever, the head of the United Nations anti-mine service said today that countries must use a major conference later this year to map out the strategy towards reaching that target. Five years after the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction – known as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention – came into force, a conference to be held in Nairobi from 29 November to 3 December will review its performance. So far 141 countries have agreed to adhere to the pact, which forbids the production and sale of landmines, and works towards reducing existing stockpiles. Martin Barber, Director of the UN Mine Action Service, told a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York that “tremendous progress” has been made in the battle against landmines since 1999. The number of new victims of landmines – killed or injured – has dropped from about 26,000 per year to between 15,000 and 20,000; the number of States officially trading in landmines has fallen from 34 to zero; and the number of States where mines are used has dropped from 19 in 1997 to no more than five today. Mr. Barber added that stockpiles of at least 30 million mines have also been destroyed. “Let’s get rid of this weapon once and for all,” he said. “We can consign the anti-personnel landmine to the dustbin of history. It’s an anomalous weapon. It should be eliminated.” Mr. Barber said the language of the treaty is unlikely to come up for review at the Nairobi conference, but delegates from governments and civil society are likely to chart their strategies and targets for the next five years. He said universalizing the treaty remains a key goal, as well as continuing to assist victims of mines and working towards clearing areas and returning them to agricultural use. Last week Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement, after meeting with Ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch of Austria, the president-designate of the Nairobi conference, that the UN system would do its utmost to help in the goal of universalizing the anti-landmine treaty. Listen to UN Radio report

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