Antipersonnel Mines Have to Go, Says Holy See

Wants Ottawa Convention Honored

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ROME, OCT. 2, 2003 ( The Holy See made an impassioned appeal to the international community to apply the Ottawa Convention which calls for the elimination of antipersonnel mines.

«Nothing can justify the use of weapons that kill, maim or wound indiscriminately, that affect civilian populations long after conflicts have ended, and that prevent the development of war-torn areas,» said the Vatican representative at the 5th Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Antipersonnel Mines and on Their Destruction — known as the Ottawa Convention.

The meeting was held in Bangkok, Thailand, from Sept. 15-19. Monsignor Francesco Cao Minh-Dung, head of the Holy See delegation, said in his address, published today in L’Osservatore Romano: «Now is the time, and it is urgent that we repair the errors of the past.»

«We would like to hope that humanity will not repeat the mistakes when making similar choices concerning weapons,» he said. «Only peace, justice and development are able to create, on the national and international level, the conditions of real security for all.»

Forty-seven countries armed with 200 million antipersonnel mines — including China, the United States and Russia — are under pressure to join the pact before the first major review of the treaty next year in Kenya, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines reported.

Asia is home to some of the world’s most mine-infested countries — especially Afghanistan and Cambodia — and its biggest producers and stockpilers.

China, with the world’s largest arsenal at 110 million antipersonnel mines, said on Friday it agreed with the humanitarian goals of the treaty, but rejected an outright ban.

Money was the main issue for African delegations in Bangkok.

Most echoed the view of Angola’s chief of de-mining who said his cash-strapped government needed more aid to meet the treaty’s target for destroying all mines in the ground 10 years after a country ratifies the pact.

Angola, a former Cold War battleground and one of the world’s most heavily mined countries, is spending $16 million on mine clearance this year.

Of the 18 Asian countries outside the treaty, China, India, Pakistan, North and South Korea and Singapore are major mine producers, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines said in its 2003 report.

The United States, which reserves the right to produce antipersonnel landmines but hasn’t since 1997, has cut funding for international mine action programs in recent years, but remains the biggest single donor.

The total number of deaths worldwide from these weapons was 26,000 in 2001, and 15,000 to 20,000 last year.

«The removal of the landmines is still a crucial challenge not only for the countries affected, but also for those that are not,» Monsignor Minh-Dung said.

«If we want to free millions of people, whole communities and dozens of countries from the wrath of the antipersonnel mines, closer cooperation, more important technical and financial help are needed,» he stressed.

«If we want the development of many regions to become a reality, then the states-parties that have signed the convention must double their efforts and use the means necessary to accelerate the removal of mines,» he said. «If we want the children of the 21st century to live without the fear of death or harm, then a new surge of generosity and humanity is needed.»

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