DR Congo + 3 more

African countries call for continued assistance to deal with landmines

Format
News and Press Release
Source
Posted
Originally published
as General Assembly concludes mine action discussion

GA/10206

Fifty-eighth General Assembly
Plenary
58th Meeting (AM)

With Africa perhaps the world's most mine-affected continent, the General Assembly today heard representatives ranging from those of the war-torn Great Lakes to the tense Horn of Africa urge continued support for initiatives such as the United Nations mine-action strategy for the period 2001-2005.

Emphasizing that their countries were often emerging from conflict or struggling to combat abject poverty, African delegations stressed that no effort should be spared to help their nations promote and enhance international efforts to, among other things, integrate a development perspective into mine-action planning, emphasize the role of mine-affected communities when determining mine-action priorities and to address gender concerns in the design, implementation and evaluation of mine-action programmes.

Eritrea's representative said that the Horn of Africa was one of the most seriously affected regions in the world. About one third of his country was contaminated, with rural communities and internally displaced persons being the hardest hit groups. To date, there were an estimated 1,500,000 to 1,650,000 mines and about 300,000 unexploded ordnance in the country. Since hostilities began in the region during the early 1970s, between 50,000 and 80,000 people had been victims of those weapons, and more than 2,000 had suffered between 1991 and 1993.

True to its tradition of self-reliance, Eritrea had also adopted a policy of "ownership" that would empower its agents to play the primary role in the planning and implementation of programmes, and allow foreign donors to assist in the creation of structures that underlined the importance of capacity building. Nevertheless, landmines were about human beings, and international assistance was essential to alleviating their suffering.

The representative of Ethiopia said internal and external wars in the 1930s, 1970s and 1980s had led to the contamination of large areas of the country with landmines and unexploded ordnance. That problem had made sizeable areas of land inaccessible, and had made the return of refugees and the rehabilitation of internally displaced persons a daunting task. The Government attached great importance to enhancing the capacity of the Ethiopian Mine Action Office and had allocated close to $3 million to its budget.

The magnitude of Ethiopia's mine contamination and the socio-economic impact of that situation put the country among those requiring close attention, he added. Substantial resources would be needed to sustain and expand mine action at the national level. Thus, donors were called on to enhance their assistance and cooperation in areas such as equipping, training and deploying additional companies of deminers, among others.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo was a State emerging from conflict, its representative said. And although it was not one of the countries most affected by mines, many of its citizens had been injured and maimed due to accidents involving landmines. In light of widespread poverty and its economy, which had been bled dry, support for the financial needs of his country was essential.

Among other things, the Democratic Republic of the Congo needed legal, financial, technological and human assistance in its efforts to draw up and implement an anti-landmine programme, which would also help care for victims. Also needed was support for the destruction of stockpiles and training of a national demining capacity.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Croatia, Thailand, Zambia, Sudan and Laos People's Democratic Republic.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The Assembly will reconvene on Monday, 10 November, at 10 a.m. to conclude its consideration of support by the United Nations system of the efforts of governments to promote and consolidate new and restored democracies, as well as take up a number of other items.

Background

The General Assembly met this morning to continue its discussion of assistance in mine action, and United Nations support of the efforts of governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies. (For background, see Press Release GA/10204 issued on 5 November.)

Statements

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) was pleased that the rate of ratifications of the Ottawa Convention had not slowed down, and welcomed the fact that 10 countries had ratified the Convention in 2003. The debate over the past months on the reform of the Convention was crucial to the future development of mine action and of the Convention itself. There was concern that if the work of the Convention did not become more attuned to the actual needs of the mine action community, there would be a risk of attrition and stagnation. Progress had been tangible, but uneven. Advances had been made in the destruction of mines stored in stockpiles and the demining of national territories contaminated with mines. However, he believed that assistance for the rehabilitation of mine victims needed more energy and engagement on the international level so that timetables set by the Convention could actually be met. In its new position as co-chair of the Standing Committee on Victim Assistance and Socio-Economic Reintegration, Croatia was resolute not only to follow guidelines set by former co-chairs, but to promote new measures and encourage innovative steps to increase direct communication between potential donors and recipients.

Victims of mines had special needs and requirements, he stated. In that regard, he encouraged mine-affected nations to report on the challenges faced, as well as on achievements. His delegation intended to make use of the questionnaire drawn up by previous co-chairs that would help affected States report on problems encountered, their current situation and future plans regarding victim assistance. Croatia had a 40 per cent decrease in the number of mine victims. And, while every mine victim was a tragedy, Croatia registered only six incidents this year, which it regarded as evidence of the success of its media campaign and the rigorous marking of mine-suspected areas. Through the joint efforts of Government authorities, hard-working personnel on the ground and international assistance, Croatia would be free of mines by 2009.

However, he expressed dissatisfaction with the low influx of donor contributions this year, resulting in an increasing burden on the State budget. Lastly, while he believed that the primary responsibility for clearing explosive remnants of war lay with the nation that deployed the weapons, he accepted the solution contained in the Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War, whereby the country that deployed the weapons would cooperate with the country affected in eventual clearance operations.

PRAVIT CHAIMONGKOL (Thailand) said that while the report of the Secretary-General referred to "significant progress towards creating an environment free from the threat of landmines" since 1993, the 2003 Landmines Monitor Report had reported new landmine casualties in 65 countries, up from 61 countries last year. There also continued to be an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 new casualties from landmines and unexploded ordnance each year, with 11,700 new identified casualties in 2002. It was a fact that landmines continued to threaten human security in all regions of the world, and the question that must now be answered was how to effectively meet that global challenge.

The threat posed by landmines should be addressed in an integrated manner, he said, taking into account all aspects of the problem, including mine awareness, mine clearance, victim assistance, stockpile destruction and universal adherence to the Ottawa Convention. Moreover, the problem of landmines was best dealt with from the humanitarian perspective. However, meeting such immense humanitarian concerns was a burden no one State or group of States could manage alone. International support and cooperation was necessary to make substantive progress in solving the landmine problem.

For its part, Thailand was making strenuous efforts to meet the obligations contained in the Ottawa Convention, he added. It had completed the destruction of its stockpile of anti-personnel landmines on 24 April. However, despite the efforts of the Thailand Mine Action Center, only 0.03 per cent of mine-infested land had been cleared thus far. As mine action was a complex and comprehensive undertaking, building partnerships at all levels was essential. Its Action Center also worked in partnership with all relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations, such as the Thailand Campaign to Ban Landmines. The country worked with Norway, United Kingdom and the United States in the initiation of the Level One Landmine Impact Survey. It had also provided assistance in mine action to other developing countries in the spirit of South-South cooperation, and to Cambodia and Timor-Leste as a troop contributing country to United Nations peacekeeping.

ZULU KILO-ABI (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said landmines constituted a global scourge that claimed its many victims from among peaceful and innocent populations, particularly those in rural areas. Landmines posed an obstacle to the return of refugees, to development and to the return to normal conditions. They deprived their victims of the possibility of recovering land after conflict. It should be noted that after having reviewed the scope of the problem, the Assembly had requested governmental and non-governmental organizations to carry out awareness-raising and training programmes on landmines.

The Ottawa Convention, he noted, enjoyed the active support of 141 States Parties, which had come together for the fifth conference in Bangkok, Thailand. At that time, all had been invited to respect their obligations under the treaty. In that connection, he wished now to launch an appeal to those that had not yet done so to adhere to the Convention. His own country had become a State party to the Convention on 1 November 2002. In respect of its own responsibilities, the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued to identify its stockpiles in order to destroy them, and to identify mined areas within its territory. Many challenges remained, however, and it was hoped that the collective awareness of scope of the problem would help rally support.

His was a State emerging from conflict, he recalled. And although it was not one of the countries most affected by mines, one must realize that many had been injured and maimed after accidents involving landmines. As the Secretary-General had pointed out in his report on the country, in light of widespread poverty and its economy, which had been bled dry, support for the financial needs of his country was essential. Among other aid, the Democratic Republic of the Congo needed legal, financial, technological and human assistance in its efforts to draw up and implement an anti-landmine programme, which would also help care for victims. There must be support for the destruction of stockpiles, as well as for the training of a national demining capacity.

AMARE TEKLE (Eritrea) said that the Horn of Africa was one of the most seriously mine-affected regions in the world. About one third of his country was contaminated, with the hardest hit being rural populations and internally displaced persons. During the first war of independence, more than one million landmines and unexploded ordnance were planted in all regions of the country. During the second war, the enemy planted even more landmines than during the first war in a much smaller area, thus adding to Eritrea's immense landmine problem. To date, there were an estimated 1,500,000 to 1,650,000 mines, and about 300,000 unexploded ordnance in the country. Since 1973, between 50,000 and 80,000 people had been victims of those weapons, and more than 2,000 had suffered between 1991 and 1993. Eritrea was committed to the elimination of anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance, and endorsed the international objective of "Zero Victims." It was also prepared to join all international and regional efforts to remove the threat posed by those weapons.

Eritrea acceded to the Ottawa Convention only recently, he stated. Yet, aware of the effects of landmines, it had unilaterally practiced the self-restraining measures advocated by the Convention and other instruments. True to its tradition of self-reliance, Eritrea had also adopted a policy of "ownership" that would empower its agents to play the primary role in the planning and implementation of programmes, and allow foreign donors to assist in the creation of structures that underlined the importance of capacity-building. However, contamination had been exacerbated during the Ethiopian aggression, and today, there were more than 1.6 million landmines and unexploded ordnance in Eritrea. He concluded by stating that the issue of landmines was about human beings, and that international assistance was essential to alleviating their suffering. It was evident that not all parties that had acceded to the Convention were observing provisions in good faith, and that, under the best circumstances, the elimination of landmines was a daunting task.

BERNARD MPUNDU (Zambia) welcomed the positive response by the international community in support of mine action, but said he wanted to see more improvements in cooperation and coordination programmes. Civil-military cooperation at the local level should be encouraged and supported. In many countries, the mine action centers, while retaining civilian leadership, had drawn experts from the military to undertake humanitarian demining. In order to make optimum use of available human resources, he advocated investing in civil military institutions to strengthen local capacity-building. He hoped the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) would soon define the appropriate role of the military in mine action.

In order to ensure success in implementing the Mine Action Strategy for the period 2001 - 2005, he appealed to the United Nations to emphasize stronger cooperation and coordination of efforts at the regional and sub-regional levels. Since 2002, the Zambia Mine Action Center had demined areas earmarked for a large World Bank funded project known as the "Gweembe-Tonga Development Project", located in the lower Zambezi Valley. When completed, the project would help alleviate poverty among the people who were displaced by the construction of the Kariba Power project in 1956. He appealed for extra funds in support of the efforts of the United Nations Mine Action Service and called on the Service to coordinate another inter-agency visit to Zambia, early in 2004, to assess the progress made by the Zambia Mine Action Center, since their last visit in May 2001.

TERUNEH ZENNA (Ethiopia) said his country was one of the African countries most affected by landmines. The internal and external wars in the 1930s, 1970s and 1980s in which his country had been immersed had led to the contamination of large areas with landmines and unexploded ordnance. According to the Ethiopian Mine Action Office (EMAO), there were more than two million landmines and unexploded ordnance present on national territory. That problem had made large areas of land inaccessible, and had made the return of refugees and the rehabilitation of internally displaced persons a daunting task.

His Government had accorded great significance to mine action, he said. As a first step, it had established the Ethiopian Mine Action Office in February 2001. Among that body's most important accomplishments were the development of a management centre, the equipping and training of four companies of civilian deminers, the development of a field capacity for demining and the beginning of a Landmine Impact Survey. The Government attached great importance to enhancing the capacity of the office and had allocated close to $3 million to its budget.

The magnitude of Ethiopia's mine contamination and the socio-economic impact of that situation put the country among those requiring close attention, he added. Substantial resources would be needed to sustain and expand mine action at the national level. Thus, donors were called on to enhance their assistance and cooperation, particularly in areas such as equipping, training and deploying additional companies of deminers, establishing rapid response teams, assistance in the timely completion of the Landmine Impact Survey and mine awareness and victim assistance programmes, and the provision of technical, training and financial assistance to enhance the Office's capacity.

ALI SAEED (Sudan) said his country was a partner in international efforts to combat landmines, as his nation was among the first to sign the Convention. Sudan was aware of the seriousness of landmines and the permanent injuries that resulted from them, in particular to children and other vulnerable populations. Landmines and unexploded ordnance were obstacles to reconstruction and development efforts, particularly for nations attempting to make the switch from war to peace. International cooperation with regard to landmines was the only way to make progress.

For its party, Sudan was trying to set up a data bank and a specialized agency in the field of cartography. It was cooperating with the European Union as well as national and international organizations. Further, he said, Sudan was setting up training programmes in the anti-mine action field, and making the public aware of the dangers of such weapons. While the problem of landmines had been an obstacle to reconstruction efforts, Sudan was on the cusp of signing a peace agreement that would aid in efforts to eradicate those weapons. In cooperation with the United Nations, people had been able to return to their villages. His nation attached great importance to the implementation of the United Nations Mine Action Strategy. Lastly, he thanked the Organization for its efforts, which his nation had benefited from in dealing with mine action issues.

ALOUNKEO KITTIKHOUN (Lao People's Democratic Republic) said his country continued to suffer the consequences of the worst bombardment known in history, which had occurred during a long and protracted war. From 1963 to 1972, two million tons of cluster bombs had been dropped on his country, contaminating more than 15 per cent of the country's total landmass. Those "bomblets" could be found anywhere. To deal with the problem, the Government had established a trust fund on unexploded ordnance, whose primary objectives, among others, was to raise awareness of the danger posed by landmines, to clear land and to train nationals for that work. That effort had recorded some important achievements, including the clearing of 25 square kilometers of land. One million inhabitants had been made aware of the danger and approximately 1,000 Lao nationals had been trained in demining work.

He wished to take the opportunity, he said, to thank all his country's demining partners for their financial contributions to that trust fund. That assistance was not merely humanitarian but development assistance. It addressed issues such as poverty eradication and sustainable development. It was his country's thorough hope that the international community and donor partners in particular, would continue to assist in addressing the problem of unexploded ordnance.

Rights of Reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Ethiopia said it surprised him to hear a representative of Eritrea -- a country that had brought war against all its neighbours during its short history of independence -- to accuse his own country of aggression. Eritrean forces had triggered the 1998 war. Being accused by Eritrea of violating the Ottawa Convention also came as a surprise to a founding Member State of the United Nations, one which, moreover, had sound respect for its international obligations and had never violated them, nor been accused of violating them by any international organization. The representative of Eritrea had also accused Ethiopia of planting new mines, he said, yet such action came from Eritrea's side.

The representative of Eritrea said that if he had the time, he would address the issue of aggression raised by the representative of Ethiopia, but for the moment, he would limit himself only to addressing the issue of landmines. The Ethiopian objective, he said, "was to create confusion and doubt to ensure that a frustrated and uncaring world would declare a plague on both houses". Referencing a 1999 newspaper article, he said only three countries had been accused of planting new mines, among which Ethiopia was one.

The report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), he said, noted that "a series of meetings with the Ethiopian Ministry of Defence had resulted in seeking further clarification on types of mines used in the temporary security zone as well as further information on minefields already cleared". Ethiopia, he recalled, had at first refused to give maps of mines to his country and once they had done so, those maps were useless. And only three weeks ago, the Ethiopian Government had rejected the Algiers Agreement, because of the decision of the Border Commission.

The representative of Ethiopia said his country continued to hold to the Algiers Agreement, but that it held the decision of the Boundary Commission to be inconsistent with the Algiers Agreement. Thus, Ethiopia now considered them to be separate.

The representative of Eritrea said it was "amazing" that Ethiopia had tried to dissociate the Boundary Commission from the Algiers Agreement. The Boundary Commission had been mandated by the Security Council to make a final decision as part of the Algiers Agreement.