The United Nations is marking the International Day for Landmine Awareness on April 4, hailing the benefits of the decade-old ban on landmines, but warning about the growing threat of cluster bombs. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau has the story.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno says great strides have been made since an international treaty banning the use of landmines went into effect 10 years ago. He says the treaty has helped to eradicate many landmines, eliminated stockpiles, and reduced the victims of landmines by as much as 50 percent.
Afghanistan, he says, is one nation where the program has yielded remarkable results. "Remarkable by the massive engagement of the Afghan people in that program. The Afghan NGOs [non-governmental organizations], Afghan organizations coordinated by the U.N., have been absolutely key in the effort to remove mines. Is the effort over today? No. I was traveling in [Afghanistan] very recently and I could see places where there are indications of mines and they are still quite significant areas in Afghanistan which are not clear of mines so that effort is ongoing. It is mostly conducted by Afghans so I think we all have to pay tribute to their courage and also the very strong organization that they have developed to address that problem," he said.
Guehenno says landmines continue to take a toll in some highly populated farming areas and in conflict-ridden areas.
The U.N. peacekeeping chief warns that other munitions, namely unexploded rockets, mortars and cluster bombs remain a serious threat to civilian populations and peacekeepers alike. "I want to reiterate the United Nations call for stronger international agreements to address the humanitarian impact of such legal devices. A typical cluster bomb can contain hundreds of sub-munitions, or bomblets, which scatter over a wide area. These sub-munitions are supposed to explode on impact, but a significant percentage actually does not. So they stay after the conflict," he said.
Geuhenno says peacekeepers have cleaned up approximately 100,000 of these munitions as a result of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict, but he estimates that more than one million cluster ammunitions remain in the area, endangering the local population and peace keepers.