Letter: Mines: first clear up the deadly legacy

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Mines: first clear up the deadly legacy

Sir: The controversy caused by Diana, Princess of Wales's latest comments on the landmine ban and the Foreign Secretary's response has heightened public awareness but may well have diverted attention from the central humanitarian concern.

An immediate global ban on the production and use at least of anti-personnel mines is certainly desirable, but even more urgent and more easily politically attainable is a concerted drive to remove the mines already laid. Unless the international community, presumably under UN auspices, sets up and finances an operational command to co-ordinate, direct and finance demining on a global scale, the incidence of tragic human casualties will only mount and rehabilitation of large areas of countries such as Angola, Mozambique, Bosnia and Cambodia will remain impossible for decades.

A variety of demining technologies exists and in a number of countries the military have developed the relevant skills to have personnel trained to meet their own specific needs, such as, by Britain, for the post-conflict clearance of the Falklands. South Africa, which announced a permanent ban in February, is already deploying its own human and technical resources for mine clearance in parts of southern Africa but needs the encouragement of international financial support to do this on a larger scale.

The question remains where the practical initiative is to come from. A worthwhile first step would be for Britain, in conjunction with South Africa, to put the matter on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh in October.

Professor WILLIAM F GUTTERIDGE

Director

Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism

London W1

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