Land Mines

On October 4th and 5th, a conference on clearing and banning anti-personnel land mines (APMs) was held in Ottawa, under the auspices of External Affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy. Representatives from NGOs and the UN gathered from around the world.

Belgium was the first country to institute a total ban on land mines, and Norway and Switzerland have followed it in outlawing the stockpiling, manufacture, use, transport and sale of APMs. Now they’re encouraging other nations to do the same. Most APMs come from Russia and China. Even if these nations refuse to dispose of their stockpiles, the international community could force them to stop their export. In a treaty to ban land mines, we must also ban the “parts thereof”. Some undeveloped countries have explosives, but lack the trigger device that makes the mine explode. These are often made in western countries, and must be outlawed.

An estimated 10 million mines are now lying in wait to main or kill in Asia (Cambodia, Afghanistan), Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Somalia), Europe (former Yugoslavia), the Middle East (Iraq, Kurdistan), and South America. More are produced or stolen from stockpiles every month. A mine may cost only three to five dollars, a price affordable to any criminal. Not only are people killed or mutilated by APMs, they also starve when they lose the use of their means of livelihood, their agricultural land.

Silvija Jaksic writes in the July/August issue of Peace Magazine: “Most land mines have been rendered even more volatile by a thousand days of constant exposure to blistering temperatures and the sun.” Bedouins fall victim to mines planted in Egypt during World War II, and children in Laos are maimed or killed by one of the thousands of mines planted by the American army during the Vietnam War. Despite the millions of dollars spent on developing weapons, few western governments are willing to pay for clearing the mines they laid in developing countries.

The old land mines were made from steel, which can be located with metal detectors. But the new plastic mines contain less than a nickel’s weight of metal. A brave soul must go out into the field to find these mines, usually without protection. They lie on their stomach, poking with a little stick in the ground, sideways. If they feel something hard, they dig with a scoop, or their bare hands around the object. Unearthed mines are de-activated by inserting a metal wire through an opening. An accidental poke to the top of the mine will make it explode, leaving them dead or crippled for life.

I once found myself in a land mine field in Europe, shortly after World War II. Never in my life have I prayed so literally, “God, guide my every step.” I thought, if I step on a mine, then anyone who comes to rescue me might step on one too, and would be wounded or killed. I remember the fear. That was only once, but people in other countries, now, have to live with this fear all their lives.

For more information on the International Campaign, contact Tom Davis at Science for Peace (tdavis@trentu.ca), or Mines Action Canada, #208 — 145 Spruce Street, Ottawa, ON, K1R 6P1.

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ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)