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Asian Countries Pressured to Sign Anti-Landmine Treaty - 2003-09-15

Asia is lagging behind the world community in signing onto an international treaty banning the production and use of anti-personnel mines. A conference of treaty members is pressing more countries to sign the treaty, in a region where the majority of the world's mines are produced.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines believes Asia is lagging behind other regions in eradicating the deadly weapons and Asian states are being pressed to join with more than 130 signatories to the treaty banning the production and export of landmines.

This week's review of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty has brought together 600 delegates from the 136 signatory members. Key non-signatory states, such as China, are sending observers to the five-day meeting.

The treaty has made marked progress, more than 110 parties or states have destroyed 31-million mines since it came into effect.

The Asia Pacific region has nine of the world's 15 mine producers and stockpilers, including South Korea, Singapore, China, India and Pakistan. It also has eight of the countries most affected by landmines, including Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Cambodia has long faced problems from mines left from years of conflict. Deputy director general for the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), Hieng Ratana, said landmines threaten 45 percent of Cambodia's population, about 5.2 million people. "In the current situation we have around 850 casualties each year. For these seven months in Cambodia, from January to July, this year there has been 493 casualties already happen," he said.

The Cambodian Mine Action Center, with aid funds of almost $12 million a year, has 2,400 people working to de-mine the country. The government's goal is no victims from mines by 2012.

But International Campaign to Ban Landmines ambassador, and Nobel laureate, Jody Williams said Burma needs attention now. "It appears there is actually now more victims every year in Burma than Cambodia, which is quite startling," she said. "Cambodia is held as the landmine basket-case of Asia, but the problem is really on the increase in Burma."

Ms. Williams said, especially along the borders with Thailand and Bangladesh, nine out of Burma's 14 provinces have landmine problems.

While noting that more Asian nations need to sign and comply with the treaty, Ms. Williams said she is hopeful that more countries will join.