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121 nations sign historic land mine treaty

Anti-personnel land mine
Anti-personnel land mine   
Latest developments:

December 4, 1997
Web posted at: 10:03 p.m. EST (0303 GMT)

OTTAWA (CNN) -- The celebrated treaty to ban anti-personnel land mines became a reality Thursday when 121 nations signed the accord and pledged $500 million to implement it.

"We've come to this conclusion with unexpected and heartening speed," Canada's Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy. Axworthy said at the end of a three-day conference to sign the treaty and begin a global effort to remove mines from one-time battlefields around the world.

It was a diplomatic triumph for Axworthy, who with Prime Minister Jean Chretien marshaled support in a treaty in just 14 months -- an usually short time in traditional arms diplomacy.

But major military powers like the United States, Russia, China and most Middle Eastern nations refused to sign, insisting that some need for land mines remained.

"I think it's important for those countries to re-think their motives for not signing," said Dr. Julius Toth of the international medical assistance group Doctors Without Borders. "If they can justify to the children that I have to deal with when I'm working in the countries, with amputees and the victims of these mines ... they'd better come up with a pretty valid reason for not being on line."

Although the major powers refused to sign the treaty, they were on hand and generally supportive of the effort.

Number of signees surprises organizers

Children
These Toronto school children attended the conference and signed their own land-mine treaty   

In trying to explain the United States' position, U.S. special representative Rick Inderfurth said, "It was not for lack of common dedication to eliminating anti-personnel land mines from the face of the Earth."

An estimated 60 million to 100 million mines are in place 69 countries, and they kill or maim more than 25,000 people every year -- the equivalent of a victim every 22 minutes.

The treaty is the result of the efforts of a coalition of popular figures, governments and non-governmental groups such as the Red Cross and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, led by American Jody Williams, who shared this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

It also benefited from a campaign by Britain's late Princess Diana, which focused world attention on the human toll taken by land mines.

The number of countries that signed the treaty -- more than twice the number that originally backed the idea in October 1996 -- surprised the organizers, although some signatories were tiny states such as Vanuatu and San Marino.

Canadian officials said all 125 countries attending the meeting asked to sign the treaty, but a few lacked the proper signing authority from their governments. They are expected to sign the treaty at the United Nations in New York next week.

'This is just the beginning'

The treaty commits countries to stop making, using, stockpiling or transferring mines. It also commits those with mines in the ground to remove them within the next 10 years -- with international help, if necessary.

Axworthy told the conference that in 36 hours the conference had received pledges of $500 million to assist in the removal of the mines.

The pledges included $87 million by the United States (to increase by $20 million after a year), $70 million by the European Union, $24 million by Norway, $16 million by Japan, $14 million by Canada and $11 million by Germany.

Axworthy told donors that removing the mines was not just a humanitarian issue, but a development problem. He said agricultural production could rise by one-third in Angola and Cambodia -- and double in Afghanistan -- if cropland was cleared of land mines.

"This is just a beginning," Axworthy said. "We've got lots of work to do."

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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