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UN Conference Agrees to New Negotiations on Unexploded Munitions - 2002-12-14

At a United Nations conference in Geneva, representatives from 90 governments agreed Friday to begin negotiations next year on new rules to reduce deaths and injury from unexploded munitions.

The new agreement will include measures to clear a battle zone of unexploded ordnance, to educate civilians about the risks and to train workers who clear the munitions.

Peter Herby, a weapons expert with the International Committee of the Red Cross, said it is extremely urgent to achieve a good accord quickly. "There are thousands of people being killed each year and millions affected by unexploded ordnance around the world. And each new conflict which unfolds adds to the enormous burden already in the world for clearing and providing care for the victims," he said. "And this cannot go on like that."

Mr. Herby says each new conflict diverts resources away from the existing problem. A Red Cross study shows that nearly 500 civilians were killed in the aftermath of the conflict between NATO and Yugoslavia by booby traps, artillery rounds and grenades.

A representative of a group called Landmine Action, Richard Lloyd, says unexploded munitions are taking a heavy toll in dozens of the world's poorest countries that have been ravaged by war. He is calling on governments to move fast to negotiate a new international law that obliges users of explosive weapons to clear them up after the fighting is over.