A legacy of war that may prove impossible to curb

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Banning landmines, which injure or kill 65 people every day, would prove more dangerous than regulating them, according to an arms industry expert.

There are thought to be more than 110 million worldwide, although stocks of old-style mines, which remain live for up to 100 years, are being replaced with self-destruct devices which deactivate after a certain length of time.

The places worst affected by landmines are Afghanistan, Cambodia, Angola and the former Yugoslavia. For every mine cleared at a cost of pounds 500, 20 more are laid. Last year, about 100,000 were removed while 2 million were planted.

Mine clearance is a dangerous and lengthy procedure and in places such as Angola, the clearance rate can be as slow as 3-5 sq km per day. It has been calculated that it would take 4,000 years to clear the mines in Afghanistan.

International pressure led to an agreement last May to ensure future mines contain eight grams of iron to make them easier to trace, and to be either clearly marked, or fitted with a self-destruct device.

According to the expert, who asked to remain anonymous, there are two big problems with these "smart" models. The first was reliability. "If you think about the conditions in which they might have to work - they might have to be dropped from an aeroplane - is this mechanism going to work?" The second was cost. "The cheapest mines are maybe $3. If you said to the Chinese, for example, 'you must have these things, they'll only add $15 to the cost', I can tell you what they'd say."

Cheaper, and potentially more reliable possibilities included the use of corrosion or biological decay.

Campaigners lobbying for a global ban dismiss the new agreement. It will not be reviewed for five years, in which time an estimated 130,000 people will have suffered fatal or serious injuries.