Nobel laureate says UK is stalling on landmines

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Labour has made much of its ethical approach to arms dealing and the abolition of landmines. However, Steve Boggan finds that some in the worldwide anti-mines movement think the Government isn't doing enough.

A British Nobel peace laureate has accused the Government of dragging its feet over the ratification of a treaty designed to ban the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of landmines.

Rae McGrath, who delivered the Nobel lecture on behalf of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the peace prize, said yesterday that Tony Blair's government was lagging behind others in ensuring that the treaty was incorporated into international law.

The treaty was signed by Britain and 121 other countries in Ottowa, Canada, two weeks ago, but Mr McGrath remains critical of Mr Blair and Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary. In order to become law by December 1988 - the date earmarked by landmine campaigners - 40 countries must adopt it as domestic law by June next year.

Labour insists that it intends Britain to be one of these 40, but Mr McGrath, one of the founders of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) - so beloved of the late Diana, Princess of Wales - told The Independent that he felt the Government would not make the deadline.

"They did sign it only two weeks ago, but the details and content of the treaty were actually drawn up at a conference in Oslo last September," he said. "That gave the bureaucrats plenty of time to frame the legislation necessary for a Bill to be presented to Parliament as soon as the treaty was signed. But, as far as we can tell, nothing has happened."

Mr McGrath, a former army engineer and one of the founders of ICBL, was chosen to give a lecture to the Nobel committee in Oslo earlier this month following the award of the pounds 625,000 peace prize to the American Jody Williams and the ICBL, which she co-ordinates. He said: "I simply can't understand it. Here is a perfect opportunity for Robin Cook to show his ethical credentials, but either he or his civil servants appear to be dragging their feet. Canada, Ireland and Mauritius have already ratified the treaty, so why haven't we?"

Mr McGrath was supported by the Mines Advisory Group, which said that Macedonia, Italy, Austria, Norway and Belgium were close to ratifying the treaty.

"At the moment, we have a moratorium on landmines in the UK, but there is a coda that says our troops may use them in `exceptional circumstances' until the treaty becomes international law," said Tim Carstairs, International Policy and Research Officer. "I find that no less than despicable, given that we haven't done anything to ratify it yet."

According to the Red Cross, 2,000 people are maimed or killed by landmines every month - or one every 20 minutes. There are now more than 119 million hidden landmines in more than 70 countries, the worst affected being Iran (16 million mines), Angola (15 million), Iraq (10 million), Afghanistan (10 million), Cambodia (10 million), Bosnia Herzegovina (up to 6 million) and Egypt, which is thought to have up to 23 million, many left over from the El Alamein campaign during the Second World War.

The Foreign Office said criticism of the Government was unfair as it was committed to ratifying the treaty, but a spokesman was unable to say whether the June deadline would be met.