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Japan says it will break ranks, sign land mine treaty

October 21, 1997
Web posted at: 9:28 a.m. EDT (1328 GMT)

TOKYO (CNN) -- Japan's Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto said Monday he is now ready to sign a global treaty to ban anti-personnel land mines, over the objections of political partners both at home and abroad.

Nearly 100 countries endorsed an anti-personnel land mine treaty in Oslo last month; the treaty is due to be signed in Ottawa, Canada, between December 2 and 4. But the United States, Japan's closest ally, refuses to sign the treaty.

The U.S. government wants to use land mines on the tension-filled Korean Peninsula for nine more years because of the uncertain situation there. It says joining the ban would force it to defuse minefields along the border between North and South Korea, threatening the safety of U.S. troops on the peninsula.

Meanwhile, Japan's own defense ministry has also argued against signing the ban. Japan Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said that without the participation of the world's two largest military powers, the United States and China, the treaty would be toothless.


And he insisted that Japan needs to keep land mines to deter possible attacks on the country's coastline. Japan has some 1 million land mines in storage, which it could bury along its coastline to defend itself.

But Hashimoto says the ministry must come on board with other Japanese ministries to work out details of a ban. Tokyo will also try to work out its policy differences with Washington. Japan's foreign minister says he will set up meetings with U.S. officials as soon as possible to defuse bilateral tensions.

Japanese officials said Tokyo's attitude changed after the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and its U.S. coordinator, Jody Williams, won the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month.

The campaign to ban land mines, which are estimated to kill or maim 26,000 people a year, has been gathering steam for five years. It received huge international attention after the death in August of Britain's Princess Diana, who had championed the cause.

Correspondent Pamela Burton and Reuters contributed to this report.


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