Russia calls for ban on mines

Russia - one of the world's two biggest manufacturers of anti-personnel landmines - yesterday joined the growing wave of international pressure against the weapons by putting its weight behind demands for a global ban on them.

Britain announced a total ban on landmines on 21 May, with the declared intention of taking a lead in their abolition, and experts yesterday thought this might have had an effect on Russia.

Speaking at the International Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, the Russian Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, also demanded a global ban on production of fissionable material for nuclear weaponsas a first step towards their global abolition.

Russia is probably the world's biggest manufacturer of anti-personnel landmines, along with China. Landmines kill or maim 20,000 a year and more than 100 million mines are still in the ground. The Red Cross, which led a campaign against landmines, estimated that at current rates it would take 1,100 years to clear them all, at a cost of $33bn. A global ban will not solve that problem, but it will help stop it getting worse.

"In the case of Russia it's a bigger statement than any other country," said Lou McGrath of the UK Working Group on Land Mines.

"It's quite a dramatic step - a serious turn-around," said Tim Carstairs, also of the UK Working Group. He said nobody knew whether the Russians were still manufacturing anti-personnel mines or how many they had stockpiled, but stocks probably ran into tens of millions.