Letter: Modern war crime to which the Government consents

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The Independent Online
Sir: I am glad you have drawn attention to the murky business of contracts for lifting landmines being awarded to companies linked to the manufacturing of them ('UN aid goes to landmine makers', 6 June). But let us not confuse the monkey with the organ grinder. The Government, as you say in your leading article, refuses to support international endeavours to secure a ban on these weapons.

It will continue to do so until wider public awareness of what these weapons do to innocent people compels ministers to change their mind. Having recently been round the hospitals and operating theatres of Angola and Cambodia, two of the worst afflicted countries, I wholly support the policy of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which declares these weapons to be a crime against humanity. By refusing to raise a hand against them, we are consenting to a war crime.

Ministers insist that the anti-personnel mine, which has killed and maimed thousands long after conflicts have ended, has a military use if properly handled. So has poisonous gas. So has germ warfare. But they have been banned because the injury inflicted on innocent civilians by such weapons is wholly disproportionate to the military gain. And that is the central case against anti-personnel mines.

How on earth do we square countenancing this scourge with our policy on overseas aid? In Angola, 20 million mines corrupt a third of the territory. Mozambique carries 2 million undetected mines. In Zimbabwe, a million acres are so impregnated with mines, they have had to be abandoned. There is no bigger obstacle to development in the Third World. Furthermore, as I have learned from association with Care International, those put at continual risk are the aid workers themselves.

The Government's position in this matter is indefensible; and I hope your revelations will help to establish that in the public mind.

I am, Sir,

Yours faithfully,

DEEDES

House of Lords

London, SW1

7 June

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