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Press briefing by Department of Peacekeeping Operations on mine action

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Some $290 million would be needed next year to fund 300 mine action projects in 36 countries, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said at a Headquarters press briefing today.
Briefing correspondents on the launch of the report 'Portfolio of Mine Action Projects 2004', he said the projects would be aimed not only at removing landmines, but also at protecting people, assisting victims, and helping countries remove remaining stockpiles. The compilation of the report, by governments as well as the United Nations and related agencies, had also involved several non-governmental organizations and other local groups.

He said the international community had come a long way in a relatively short time, demonstrating the commitment to push forward regarding mine action. Nevertheless, the report revealed that the mine problem would only be solved with a 'very steady' effort over the years. Visits to Afghanistan had shown how meticulous, but difficult and time-consuming, the anti-mine effort was. That was why today's launch was so important in helping to mobilize international resources commensurate with the task.

Also present at the press briefing was Martin Barber, Director of the Mine Action Service in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, who spoke of an emerging international norm that stigmatized the production of anti-personnel landmines, their use and deployment.

The release of the report, published jointly by the United Nations Mine Action Service, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), coincides with the sixth anniversary of the opening for signature of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, otherwise known as the Ottawa Treaty. A total of 141 Member States have ratified or acceded to it.

Asked about the breakdown of local and United Nations mine action staff, Mr. Barber replied that it was very important to train long-term personnel, since mine action efforts were long-term. Afghanistan was a case in point. While he did not have exact numbers, some 7,200 Afghans were involved, mostly through local non-governmental organizations. There were about 20 international staff. Other major mine-affected countries, like Angola, had a similar ratio, but Afghanistan was the biggest programme.

Responding to questions about the number of existing landmines, Mr. Barber said that according to the Landmine Monitor, tens of millions of landmines were stockpiled by different countries. However, knowing the number in the ground was not nearly as important as knowing how many communities their presence impacted. A landmine on an uninhabited island threatened no one, but landmines on the way to a water well threatened children's safety.

Mr. Guéhenno added that it was critical to prioritize and coordinate, and to ensure that the focus was indeed on areas where there were both landmines and people, given that resources were limited in comparison to the size of the problem. The international community should put the facts on the table and consider what must be done to make the best use of resources, all of which flowed from voluntary contributions.

Pressed to name the main landmine-manufacturing countries and merchants, Mr. Barber said that in 1997, when the Ottawa Convention had opened for signature, 55 countries had acknowledged producing mines. That number had now declined to no more than 15. While it was up to those involved to indicate their involvement, several countries certainly still retained their production capacity.

In terms of trade, he continued, the Landmine Monitor had reported that trade in anti-personnel mines had basically stopped and there had been virtually none in the last two years. While that was 'quite a remarkable achievement', it did not mean, however, that mines were not crossing borders clandestinely in the backs of pick-up trucks. Only the formal trade had died.

Asked how many landmines had been removed since the Convention's entry into force, Mr. Barber replied that since so many organizations were still involved in mine-clearing, their reports could not be synthesized into a comprehensive account.

Mr. Guéhenno added that it was also important to compile the number of square miles or kilometres cleared because it was important to measure progress by the area cleared in places where people lived.

In response to a question about Mozambique, Mr. Barber said that while the country was not mine-free, the latest victim statistics were extremely low. Still, work was continuing in several areas to enable displaced people to return to their villages.

Asked where new mines had been laid recently, he replied that with the increasing tension along the India-Pakistan border earlier this year, new mines had been laid on both sides, and both countries had acknowledged that. Non-State actors had also laid mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The great success stories had been Afghanistan and Angola, two of the most severely mine-affected countries. There, organizations had begun to roll back the number of victims.