Britain backs US plan for global ban on landmines

The United States launched an initiative yesterday to secure a world- wide ban on landmines, which, according to humanitar-ian organisations, kill or maim about 25,000 people a year.

The Government said it supported the US proposal, which was made public only days after the Princess of Wales came under fire from Tory politicians for denouncing landmines as "hideous weapons" during a visit to Angola on behalf of the British Red Cross.

The Government, perhaps sensing public support for the princess's remarks, quickly distanced itself from the criticism of her and made clear that it advocated a ban on most anti- personnel mines. Government officials point out that Britain has not manufactured such mines for years and that China and Russia are the world's largest producers and exporters of landmines.

The Clinton administration put forward its initiative at the United Nations- sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, but without much expectation that it would achieve rapid results. Diplomats said the 61-nation conference was likely to get bogged down in the next few weeks over the demands of non-aligned and developing countries for total nuclear disarmament before there was any progress on landmines.

However, the US approach, which is supported by France as well as Britain, may produce results in the longer term. This is because Russia and China, whose support would be essential to the effectiveness of a world-wide ban, have indicated that they are at least prepared to discuss the issue in Geneva.

US officials said it made more sense to push for a landmines ban at a conference where the Russians and Chinese were taking part. The US ban would cover mines designed to kill or injure people, but would exclude anti-tank mines.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, one of several humanitarian groups pressing for a world-wide ban, estimates there are more than 100 million landmines in 64 countries.