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Signing of historic land mine treaty begins

Lloyd Axworthy
Axworthy signing the document   
Latest developments: December 3, 1997
Web posted at: 9:32 p.m. EST (0232 GMT)

OTTAWA (CNN) -- Officials from 125 countries gathered in the capital of Canada Wednesday to sign a historic treaty that would ban anti-personnel land mines around the world.

Canada was the first to sign, beginning with Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, who led a diplomatic effort over the past 14 months that resulted in the ban. He was followed by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who blamed the mines for "extermination in slow motion."

Chretien then presented Canada's ratification of the treaty to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. But he reserved special warmth and words for American Jody Williams, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her crusade against land mines.

"It is the triumph of the forces of good in life," Chretien said. "Today, in Ottawa, let us celebrate that triumph."



A L S O :

List of nations signed to the land mine ban
Major nations which have not signed


Williams said, "It is a gift to the world that, hopefully, in the next century we can do things differently and live not only in a mine-free world, but in a world where we are the superpower, and can change the world quickly and address humanitarian problems the way we have done it here."

Amputees in wheelchairs and on crutches from places like Cambodia and Angola watched silently as the papers were signed, their presence a living reminder of the grisly toll taken by land mines.

Between 60 and 100 million anti-personnel land mines are strewn around 69 countries and kill or maim approximately 25,000 people a year.

Canada sets up $100 million fund

Jody Williams
Nobel peace laureate Jody Williams speaks at the conference   
Rick Inderfurth, U.S. special representative on landmines explains the U.S. position
icon 346K/30 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
Williams responds to his statement
icon 505K/45 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

vxtreme CNN's Hilary Bowker talks with Jody Williams and Rick Inderfurth

Calling land mines an "epidemic," Chretien said Canada will set up a $100 million fund to help implement the treaty. He said the funds will pay for the removal of mines and for the medical care of mine victims. He called on other countries to create similar funds.

The treaty will make the use of land mines a violation of international law. It will also outlaw production of the mines, mandate the destruction of mines over the next four years and block the transfer of the cheap but devastating weapons.

Many Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Iran, Israel, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, have balked at signing the treaty. But most of Africa, Latin America and Europe -- including most of the former Yugoslavia -- were among the signatories.

The number of countries signing is more than twice the number of countries that originally backed the ban. Only 40 nations must ratify the treaty to make it international law.

Among those not signing is the United States, which says concern for the security of its troops in Korea prevent it from signing the treaty. It has promised that it will sign when other alternatives are found.

"We are moving in the direction that many of you would like to see," said Rick Inderfurth, U.S. special representative on land mines. "Maybe not as fast, but we are moving to be a part of the process."

Inderfurth told CNN that the U.S. has "special needs" for land mines in South Korea, where 37,000 U.S. troops face a 1 million-man North Korean army across a sometimes tense demilitarized zone. But he said the U.S. supports ending the use of land mines and is eager to help with their removal around the world.

Mines must be cleared, Annan says

The six-year campaign to end the use of land mines was led by human rights organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Williams' group, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. It also benefited from the support of the late Princess of Wales, Princess Diana, whose death in an accident last summer helped popularize her role in the campaign.

Factoids
  • The international treaty on banning land mines will take effect six months after 40 of the signatory nations ratify it in their legislatures.
  • The treaty requires signatories to destroy their stockpiles of mines within four years and remove deployed mines within 10 years.
  • Annan, who called the mines "killing machines," said, "We must now turn our imaginations to the cause of mine clearance so that the victory of today does not become a hollow one."

    "This is not just a 'feel good' event," Williams told CNN Monday evening. "The representatives here are spending four days discussing an action plan for the future."

    Chretien said he took comfort that some countries not signing the treaty plan to halt exports and production. The United States has already stopped exporting mines, while China and Russia have pledged to halt exports of land mines that do not self-destruct and cannot be picked up by mine detectors.

    Correspondent Richard Roth and Reuters contributed to this report.

    Nobel Peace Prize halfbanner Read a complete profile of Jody Williams and learn more about her cybercampaign against land mines in our special report.
    The cybercampaign that worked    •Land mines: The hidden scourge
     
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