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Land Mine Deaths Down But Problem Persists

Land mines have killed or maimed at least 8,000 people worldwide this year. But activists say that is lower than before an international treaty banning the weapons went into effect five years ago.

Twenty two times a day, somewhere in the world, an innocent person accidentally steps on a land mine and loses their life or a limb. Wednesday, the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines released a new report in Cambodia detailing the impact land mines are still having on mostly rural communities across Asia and Africa.

Sheree Bailey, campaign member, says official estimates are lower than the reality. "We actually identified just over 8,000 causalities, and that includes people killed or injured," said Sheree Bailey. " But we estimate the true figure is 15,000 to 20,000 new casualties every year."

It is nearly impossible, she says, to calculate the exact number of land mine cases. In countries like Vietnam or Sudan, there are not enough resources to record all the victims. But Wednesday's report did say global use of land mines is almost certainly down, with 300 less cases between 2002 and 2003. Afghanistan, Cambodia and Bosnia-Herzegovina made the most progress.

The campaign credits the international Mine Ban Treaty, which into effect in 1999. One hundred forty three countries have signed the groundbreaking accord, under which more than 62 million stockpiled mines have been destroyed. Eleven hundred square kilometers of mined land have also been cleared. But the campaign insists land mines are still a serious problem and a lot more work needs to be done. Forty two countries have refused to sign the treaty and there are at least 180 million unused mines stockpiled around the world - approximately one million land mines for every country on earth.

The report says China, Russia and the United States maintain the largest reserves. And the campaign's Sheree Bailey says a few countries are still using land mines in current conflicts. "The only two countries that have used mines consistently are Russia in Chechnya, and Burma, but we also had reports of use in Georgia," she said.

The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines is calling on all countries to sign the Mine Ban Treaty. They also advocate increased funding for mine clearance and the treatment of land mine victims.