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Landmine Group Urges World Leaders to Commit to a Mine-Free World

Anti-landmine activists are urging governments to commit more money and political will towards eradicating the threat of landmines. The call comes as Kenya prepares to host a major international conference on the issue next week.

The Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World will assess what has been accomplished and what remains to be done, five years after a United Nations conference in Ottawa, Canada approved the convention to ban anti-personnel mines.

About 1,000 delegates from 80 countries are expected to attend the Nairobi meeting.

The Ottawa Convention bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of mines, and calls for mined areas to be cleared within 10 years. The convention has been ratified by 143 countries. Experts say demining operations have cleared more than four million antipersonnel mines in countries signed up to the treaty.

But anti-landmine activists warn that ,while there has been enormous progress in stigmatizing the use of mines, more money and political commitment are needed to eradicate the problem.

The deputy director of the British-based group Landmine Action, Simon Conway, says too much money is spent on setting up large bureaucracies to manage anti-mine programs instead of actually getting mines out of the ground.

"We should stop building ivory towers in capital cities and start funding demining teams working in communities clearing landmines so that people can live safely in their houses, so that they can till their land, so that they can go into the forest and gather firewood," said Simon Conway.

A number of activists have come to Nairobi from neighboring Sudan, where mines are a major problem after decades of war between the government and southern rebels.

A program director for the Sudan Landmine Response group, Mohamed Fawz, says he is afraid that, if the government and rebels fulfill their pledge to sign a peace agreement by the end of December, it could lead to a rush of displaced people returning to mine-infested regions.

"Experience has shown that when a conflict ends anywhere, and people start going back to their areas, they are exposed to the dangers of landmines in their areas," said Mohamed Fawz. "And most of these areas in Sudan have been abandoned for a very long time. So the need for addressing the problems of landmines in Sudan is urgent, and critical really, at this time."

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Africa remains the continent most affected by landmines. However, the ICRC says that all sub-Saharan African countries have adopted the Ottawa Convention, with the exceptions of Ethiopia and Somalia. Also, it says the use of landmines in Africa is now rare, compared with previous decades.