Action on Land Mines

In the long history of warfare, there have been recurring attempts to limit the spillover of savage battles onto civilian bystanders.

Guernica, Dresden, the firebombing of Tokyo, the buzzbombing of London, "destroying the [Vietnamese] village in order to save it" - all engaged the world's conscience over attacks on civilians during a war. What has set antipersonnel land mines apart is the added unfairness that they continue to maim and kill succeeding generations long after the combatants have declared peace and sent the soldiers home.

It is in this context that we have long called for a three-part approach to banning such land mines: halting future production, removing old mines, and aiding victims (in all too many cases children).

This effort, now reaching a crucial point in Oslo, should proceed with hardheaded logic. There's no point in any arms control treaty that may save one group of innocent civilians only to kill potentially larger numbers.

That's why we believe delegates to the Oslo land mine parley should accept the compromise proposal put forward unofficially by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrtien. He proposes a nine-year delay for nations that sign the treaty but present an urgent case of self-defense during such a period.

That fits the DMZ (Korean demilitarized zone). There, North Korean forces (among the world's largest) are poised at commuting distance from populous Seoul. No farmers or children enter the DMZ. And a nine-year delay is likely to bring a change of regime and/or successful peace talks. Acceptance of Chrtien's idea could get the holdout US to sign, bolstering the treaty's credibility.

Another sticking point for Washington involves antitank mines that carry satellite antipersonnel mines, which self-destruct after a few days. Antitank mines, triggered only by heavy weight, are not prohibited by the draft treaty. The US should be able to find a way to redesign such mines to conform.

If nations at Oslo agree to the Chrtien compromise, they could move on to sign the treaty in Ottawa this December - and then to press boycotting nations to change their minds. Those include such key states as China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq.

Meanwhile, clearing existing mine fields in 60 nations could get under way. Those are culprits that kill or maim some 800 civilians per month.

Think of this as a fitting memorial to Diana and the mine-injured civilians she visited. And as a gift to tens of thousands who will in the future be rescued from this danger.

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