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Ottawa Convention States-Parties Convene for Second Meeting

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Wade Boese

The states party to the Ottawa Convention banning the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines (APLs) gathered in Geneva September 11-15 for the second meeting of states-parties since the treaty entered into force March 1, 1999. The countries welcomed progress to date in implementing treaty obligations but noted continued use of banned mines by some treaty signatories and called on countries not yet party to the convention to join. The United States, a treaty non-signatory, did not participate in this year's meeting despite doing so last year.

In a final declaration, the meeting attendees noted that "over 20 states-parties" had already fulfilled their obligations to destroy their APL stockpiles and that another 23 had programs underway. Ottawa states-parties, which numbered 107 by the meeting's close, are committed to destroying their APL stockpiles in four years and to destroying all treaty-prohibited mines under their control, even buried mines, within 10 years of becoming states-parties. Countries can ask for a renewable 10-year extension to complete the task.

While noting that "considerable areas of mined land have been cleared" and that mine casualty rates have dropped in "several of the world's most mine-affected states," the declaration stated that "much work remains." The United States estimates that some 60 to 70 million landmines are planted in more than 60 countries.

Allegations of continued mine use by a few of the 138 treaty signatories drew a rebuke in the final declaration that all treaty commitments should be respected. Angola, Burundi, and Sudan were all identified as possibly violating their obligations. Like last year, Angola admitted its continued use, arguing the need to protect its urban population from the UNITA rebels in the country's ongoing civil war. Sudan deemed the charges unfounded, while Burundi called the accusations "disinformation."

Extensive APL use in Chechnya by Russian and Chechen forces and in Kosovo by the Yugoslav government and the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army were also noted. Neither Russia nor the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia are treaty signatories. In a report presented to the conference, the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), a coalition of non-governmental organizations devoted to eliminating mines, said that it suspected 11 governments and some 30 rebel groups had used APLs in 20 conflicts since March 1999.

Because most countries severely plagued by buried mines are economically underdeveloped, Ottawa states-parties called upon "those in a position to do so to provide technical and financial assistance to meet the enormous challenges of mine action." Donors, including non-signatories, contributed approximately $250 million over the past year to address the landmine issue. The leading donor, the United States, has spent over $400 million on mine action programs since 1993, according to the State Department, with humanitarian demining assistance now going to 37 countries. In one of its latest programs, the United States sent a team of 70 U.S. troops on September 14 to train 60 deminers from Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia under the $3.2 million "Beecroft Initiative."

Although other Ottawa non-signatories, such as Belarus, China, Israel, and Turkey, participated at this year's states-parties meeting, the United States did not. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a February invite to all UN member states and observers to attend the meeting. By treaty rules, all meeting costs are divided up among attendees according to the UN scale of assessment, which would have left the United States with a 25 percent share. Not wanting to take funds away from its demining activities, the United States asked if it could attend in a guest capacity this year, but the UN refused. (The United States paid nothing to attend last year's meeting because it went as an invited guest of Mozambique.) Ambassador Donald Steinberg, U.S. special representative for global humanitarian demining, did observe the first two and a half days of the meeting as an unofficial observer.

The United States says it will join the convention in 2006 if it can identify and field suitable alternatives by that date for its APLs and mixed anti-tank systems, which are combinations of both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle devices. Pentagon officials contend the United States needs APLs to help defend the South Korean border. With the exception of South Korea, the United States will end the use of all APLs by 2003. Currently, the United States stockpiles approximately 11 million APLs.

The ICBL estimates that at least 250 million APLs are stockpiled throughout the world, with about 25 to 30 million of those in Ottawa signatory states. China and Russia are believed to own the largest stockpiles, estimated at 110 million and 60-70 million, respectively. Pakistan, India, Israel, Iraq, Iran, and Egypt—all non-signatories—are also suspected of having large landmine holdings.

The next meeting of states-parties will be held in Nicaragua September 18-21, 2001.