by Mercedes Sayagues
(IPS) MAPUTO --
International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) has
warned about possible use of antipersonnel landmines by U.S. forces in
The ICBL gave the warning at the closing news conference of the first meeting of state parties to the Convention to ban landmines that ended in the Mozambican capital of Maputo May 7.
The U.S. has not signed the Convention and said it will sign by 2006 only if suitable alternatives to antipersonnel landmines and mixed anti-tank systems are found.
U.S. officials have publicly stated their country reserves the right to use antipersonnel landmines in Kosovo. One would be the Gator mines that can be scattered by airplanes; another would be anti-vehicle or anti-tank mines with anti-handling devices.
Anti-vehicle mines, which are not covered by the Ottawa Convention, are designed to explode when a heavy vehicle drives over them, not when a person steps on them. But the anti-handling device detonates the mine by the presence, proximity or contact with a person.
For this reason, both the ICBL and the Red Cross consider this type of mines with anti-handling devices to function effectively as antipersonnel landmines.
problem is that 17 out of 19 NATO
members involved in the Kosovo operation have signed the Ottawa Convention to
ban landmines and could object to joint operations using weapons their
governments have banned. The two non-signatories are Turkey and the United
France has signaled it would pull out of the operation if antipersonnel landmines are used, said Stephen Goose of Human Rights Watch, an ICBL founding member, at the press conference.
He added that NATO has a wide policy of not using antipersonnel landmines in joint operations, which would conflict with the United States' publicly expressed right to use them.
Many delegates from NATO countries attending the Maputo meeting were not aware of this possible conflict between their countries and the U.S. landmine policy.
Nicoletta Dentico, of the Italian Campaign to Ban Landmines, foresees an explosion of public outrage in Italy if antipersonnel landmines are used in NATO operations in Kosovo.
NATO bases on Italian soil are the key launching pads for Kosovo.
"Public opinion in Italy has had enough of our involvement with landmines (Italy was a producer) and with our involvement in this war that is going nowhere," said Dentico.
She adds that the "serious secrecy surrounding military operations in Kosovo is understandable but violates domestic legislation, article 11 of law 374/97, which forbids any secrecy, whether state or military, on the use of antipersonnel landmines."
At the Maputo conference, American official Donald K. Steinberg, special representative of the President and the Secretary of State for global humanitarian demining, plays down such fears.
Since the U.S. would use "smart" antipersonnel landmines that self-destruct in a few weeks if not activated, he said, the risk to civilians is greatly reduced.
"From the humanitarian standpoint, there is not a problem," he said.
Steinberg attended the Maputo conference as an observer, since the U.S. is not a signatory of the treaty, and to save money. If the U.S. had attended as a full fledged participant, it would have had to bear some of the costs for the conference, to the tune of $400,000.
"It would be hard to explain to the American public why we are spending this money on a conference and not on de-mining," he said.
Yet a letter from Clinton was read by a Mozambican high official at the opening of the Maputo conference on May 3. It was received with stony silence and zero applause from delegates.
Jody Williams, ICBL ambassador and winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, said she was disturbed that delegates were greeted at the opening by the words of a state that has not signed the convention.
"I find it insulting to listen to how good the U.S. is in funding mine programs when it has not signed, and seems to be inching away from signing," she said.
While the U.S. is admittedly the major donor to mine clearance and mine victims assistance, having contributed $100 million in 1999 alone, some activists see a contradiction between this support and the reluctance to sign the Convention.
"It is embarrassing to see my country without a name plate at the conference, not in its full capacity, and it is disappointing to know it will not sign until 2006," said Mary Wareham, former head of the USA Campaign to Ban Landmines and now a senior advocate with the arms division of Human Rights Watch.
May 17, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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