Efforts to Ban Mines Persist After Setback

IT could have been worse: Instead of letting the United Nations-sponsored conference on antipersonnel land mines founder completely without agreement, delegates agreed to meet again over the next six months to tackle tough issues around restricting land mine use.

"We don't want to lose the momentum created here," said Mark Moher, Canada's ambassador for disarmament, who led the tabling of the proposal to extend the talks, which set out to review the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

The lack of progress at these talks, which lasted three weeks and ended Oct. 13, shows the difficulty in reaching consensus among the 49 countries represented.

The UN's General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution a year ago to move the world toward an antipersonnel land-mine ban. But many countries still consider such mines a legitimate defensive weapon. Antipersonnel land mines come in more than 360 models and kill or maim about 500 people a week, according to UN estimates.

Despite the bitterness and disappointment among delegates and observers last Friday at running out of time, some points appear to have been accepted in draft form. They could become finalized when negotiators meet again in Geneva in January and April next year. Among them:

*Restrictions on land mines should apply to internal conflicts as well as international ones.

*The party laying a mine is responsible for clearing it.

*There should be common standards and symbols for fencing and marking mine fields.

*Countries should be obliged to protect all humanitarian workers in mined areas, not just UN staff.

Some of the toughest issues have been technical, not political. If experts "can't answer precise technical questions with some confidence, how can they be expected to bind their country to a treaty laying down very specific technical criteria?" said a disarmament specialist. "Some delegations want a few more months to test things out at home."

MOST nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working toward a comprehensive ban will now rely on nation-by-nation legislation and dedicated private citizens. "The whole review conference has been valuable only because it's brought attention to the [land-mine banning] campaign," said Rae McGrath, who heads the Britain-based Mines Advisory Group and is one of the leaders of the international NGO campaign to ban land mines. "If we want to get a ban, we have to focus on national campaigns."

In a separate initiative, a new protocol was added to the 1980 treaty banning the use of blinding lasers. "Development of law in the arena of weapons control is always a reaction," said Johan Molander, the review conference president. "What we have done here in Vienna is the opposite. We have preempted the use of these [laser] weapons."

The International Committee of the Red Cross noted this is the first protocol in international humanitarian law to "entirely prohibit ... both the use and transfer of a weapon."

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