The Land Mine Cause

What better way to remember Diana, Princess of Wales, than diligent pursuit of one of the causes she championed - the eradication of land mines and help for their victims?

That opportunity exists at a 100-nation conference under way in Oslo, Norway, through Sept. 19. The goal of the conference: a completed treaty to ban the production and use of antipersonnel mines, ready for signing in Ottawa this December.

The public's heightened awareness of Diana's commitment to help land mine victims - a commitment that included visits to such scenes of carnage as Angola and Bosnia - should give the proposed ban momentum.

The main hurdle facing the Oslo conferees is Washington's insistence on certain exclusions. Most controversially, the US wants the Korean peninsula excluded from the ban. It argues that the partition line between North and South Korea is a heavily militarized zone, and that mines strewn there are not a threat to civilians.

But would their removal really unleash an invasion by the North's wobbly communist regime, as US military statements imply? And how does continued sowing of mines jibe with the US-backed move toward a negotiated resolution of Korea's long conflict?

Most important, if one exception is made, couldn't others be argued for just as persuasively?

As things stand, the Oslo participants are minus some crucial players - notably Russia and China. The US had until recently stayed away from the treaty effort, preferring the more inclusive United Nations-led Conference for Disarmament, which is also dealing with the land mine issue. But those negotiations hit strong opposition from China, Russia, India, and Pakistan, and stalled.

An Oslo-produced treaty backed by most, if not all, nations, could shift world opinion to the side of those who recognize that the short-term military rationale for land mines can't override their long-term destructiveness. An estimated 26,000 people a year, mostly children, are dying from mine explosions. As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, addressing the Oslo gathering, affirmed, international concern should go beyond a ban on use to a comprehensive effort to remove mines from former battlegrounds.

In the same spirit, countries, corporations, and concerned individuals should follow Diana's lead and support organizations, such as the Landmine Survivors Network in Washington, committed to helping the victims of land mines reassemble their lives.

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