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Army destroys its last mines

THE ARMY'S use of anti-personnel landmines has been consigned to history, George Robertson, the Secretary of State for Defence, said yesterday.

Describing them as "obscene weapons", Mr Robertson announced that the last of two million mines held by the army as recently as two-and-a-half years ago had been destroyed. He also committed himself to continuing to work towards a worldwide ban. "The British Army no longer possesses any anti-personnel landmine capability. No British soldier will ever again lay an anti-personnel landmine," he said. "It is a very proud moment for me to be able to use those words."

The announcement came just days before the 1997 Ottawa Convention comes into force on 1 March. Britain was one of the first 40 signatories to the treaty, which commits them to destroying all stockpiles of mines within the next four years.

At a ceremony at the Ministry of Defence in London yesterday, Mr Robertson presented four of the deactivated mines to organisations that had campaigned for their abolition.

The mounted C3 Elsie mines were received by representatives of the British Red Cross, the Mines Advisory Group, the Halo Trust and Care International. "These represent a typical anti-personnel mine in that they are simple, cheap and easily placed by hand," Mr Robertson said. "Those before you today hold particular significance as they were taken from the very last batch of mines to be destroyed by the British Army." Another deactivated mine was donated to the Imperial War Museum. This, said Mr Robertson, was to stress that the mines were part of history: "They no longer represent anything of the present or future of British military capability."

Britain had previously pledged to destroy all MoD stocks by 1 January 2000. The Royal Air Force still holds the JP233 weapons system, which can drop thousands of tiny bomblets or mines and which is also subject to the convention. These, too, will be destroyed by the end of this year, Mr Robertson said.

"I hope the accelerated destruction of British Army mines will send another clear and concrete message to those nations who have not yet signed the Ottawa Treaty. The legacy of anti-personnel mines is a modern plague," he said.

Thomas Sutcliffe, page 11