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Asia Pacific: International Mine Action Day raises public awareness of the plight of survivors

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Phnom Penh, 4 April 2011 – While there has been progress to ban the use of landmines around the world, there is still much to be done. On this International Mine Action Day, JRS Asia Pacific calls on all nations to cease using these weapons and to assist survivors.

On 4 April the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), of which the Jesuit Refugee Service is a member, urges nations to protect their people by signing the Mine Ban Treaty. This entails destructing their stockpiles of landmines and cluster munitions, demining areas where landmines are still buried and assisting survivors of landmine accidents.

"We want to hear good news in Phnom Penh from all countries. Push for progress in mine clearance, in victim assistance, in funding and international cooperation, in stockpile destruction, and national laws worldwide", said Song Kosal ICBL youth ambassador.

JRS has been campaigning against landmines since 1990 and cluster munitions since 2008. JRS was one of the founding organisations of the Thailand Campaign to Ban Landmines. In 1997 Tun Channareth, landmine survivor, advocate and JRS Cambodia staff member, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the ICBL.

"Cambodia should join the Convention on Cluster Munitions this year and be the first country in the region to be party to both treaties", said Kosal, a landmine survivor from Cambodia, a country which is highly contaminated with cluster munitions, like neighbouring Laos and Vietnam.

The Mine Ban Treaty was ratified in 1999, but its mere existence is not enough, said Sermsiri Ingavanija, JRS Asia Pacific coordinator for the Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions Campaign.

"Many people around the world are still being killed by these mines and bombs. Large areas of land cannot be used or farmed. And governments around the world still use and manufacture these weapons," Ingavanija said.

"In 2009, there were over 2,000 deaths from landmines, more than the rest of the world combined," added Ingavanija.

JRS Cambodia is happy to report that the Cambodian government has made strides in demining the countryside in recent years and is expected to finish clearance of all mine-affected areas by 2020.

Tun Channareth predicts that with enough funding and political pressure, most survivors could have access to social services and employment opportunities.

"There will always need to be a safety net for the most vulnerable survivors, many of whom are unable to move," Channareth said.

JRS has played a leading role in the campaign and contributed research on Cambodia and Indonesia for the 'Landmine Monitor'. In addition, JRS continues to support landmine survivors in Bosnia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Kosovo, and actively raises awareness of the issue in these and other landmine-affected countries.

"I thank all the governments who have taken the initiative not only to sign the treaty but assist survivors. Please continue to support our work. On this day it is important to remember that there is still much to be done", Ingavanija said.