LETTER : A chance to ban mines

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The Independent Online
From Dr Peter Carey

Sir: Your graphic report ("Minefield plague was legacy of war for France", 23 May) on the aftermath of the Second World War in France where perhaps as many of 20,000 German POWs died attempting to clear up to 13 million mines (many of which remain active to this day) is a salutary reminder of the horrendous nature of these weapons which continue to kill and maim innocent civilians long after any "official" armistice.

In 1944-45, France had the benefit of unstinting US economic aid and the defeated German army to help it in the massive task of mine clearance. Today, at least 10 countries in the developing world confront a similar problem with none of the same advantages.

In Cambodia, during the past four years, 40,000 mines (equivalent to 1,6000 hectares of land) have been cleared - around 0.4 per cent of the total, at an average cost of US $1,000 per mine.

In the same period, the Cambodia Trust has provided artificial limbs for close on 5,000 amputees, roughly a seventh of all mine victims, at a cost of US $40 per patient. Such efforts cannot be sustained in the long term unless the developed world decides to set up dedicated mine- clearance and mine-victim funds on a scale similar to those made available by the US in post-war Europe.

But there is also another way forward - a complete ban on the use, production, stockpiling, sale, transfer and export of anti-personnel mines, including the new generation of "self-destruct" or "self-neutralising" electronic mines currently produced in Britain.

The forthcoming September review conference in Vienna of the 1980 UN (Inhumane) Weapons Convention offers a historic opportunity here. The plight of France in 1944-45 or Cambodia today shows why this should not be missed.

Yours sincerely,

PETER CAREY

Chairman

Cambodia Trust

Trinity College

Oxford

25 May

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