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Activists Cite Asia as Biggest Producer of Landmines - 2003-09-09

A new international report Tuesday says anti-personnel landmines still kill or maim thousands of people each year in Asia. While some Asian countries are making progress in clearing mines, others continue to manufacture or use them in armed conflict.

The privately-run International Campaign to Ban Landmines says more countries produce mines in Asia, than in any other region of the world.

The group issued a report Tuesday examining the period between May 2002 and May 2003. It found that 15 Asian countries are still infested with landmines from ongoing or previous armed struggles. And five of those used new anti-personnel mines last year.

Among the countries where new landmines are being used is Burma [Myanmar], where government forces are fighting at least 15 rebel groups.

Yeshua Moser is a researcher with the Thailand arm of the Campaign to Ban Landmines. He says Burma's government has repeatedly been accused of what is called "atrocity de-mining." "It involves the use of civilians or prisoners, to be forced to walk in front of military units in order to trigger mines in suspected areas," explained Mr. Moser. "We have unfortunately received consistent and credible reports of it taking place."

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines is a network of more than 1,200 non-governmental organizations in more than 90 countries. It won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its treaty banning the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of the weapons. One hundred forty-eight countries have signed on to the treaty, including 15 Asian nations.

Yeshua Moser says the treaty has achieved a lot. "The landmine ban has essentially shut down the legal trade," he said. "There are only a few nations that still manufacture them, and international trade has essentially ceased."

The report estimates China has the world's largest stockpile of landmines, with some 110 million units in its possession. China says it only produces mines with self-destruct mechanisms.

India and Pakistan also produce landmines, but say the mines they produce can be detected and de-activated.

The report says militant groups in disputed Jammu and Kashmir still use landmines, as do rebel groups in the Philippines, and in Indonesia's Ambon and Aceh regions.

South Korea says it has a stockpile of two million landmines, though the report does cite some progress in de-mining the Korean demilitarized zone. North Korea and Burma are the only two Asian countries the report accuses of exporting mines.

There are some points of optimism in the report. Two of the most landmine-contaminated countries in the world, Afghanistan and Cambodia, are devoting significant time and money to de-mining efforts. The report says Afghanistan spent $64 million last year clearing mines and teaching people to avoid them. And it says Cambodia cleared mines from nearly 35 million square meters of its territory.