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Land mines conference highlights ongoing danger

An international conference on anti-personnel land mines was held in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on Wednesday to examine the humanitarian and social problems caused by their use. "This conference is the first big event that will become the first step in solving the problem," Narine Berikashvilli, a conference participant from Georgia told IRIN in Bishkek. The gathering, entitled "Landmines in Central Asia and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Countries: Defining the Problem and Identifying Solutions" was organised by the Kyrgyz Committee of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), along with the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry with the support of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). "Three-quarters of the world's nations now accept that the short-term military utility of the anti-personnel mine is far outweighed by its negative, long-term humanitarian impact on innocent civilian populations," Elizabeth Bernstein, the ICBL coordinator, said in a statement. "We call on Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan to abandon this weapon and become part of the solution, by banning antipersonnel mines without delay." The ICBL was launched in 1992. It brings together over 1,300 organisations, including those working in the area of human rights, children, peace, veterans, medical, humanitarian mine action, development, arms control, religious, environmental and women's groups in over 90 countries who work locally, nationally, and internationally, to ban antipersonnel mines. "We do hope that Kyrgyzstan will finally become a member of the Ottawa Convention, which bans anti-personnel mines and their production," Nasira Baratbaeva, a programme coordinator of the Kyrgyz Red Crescent Society, said at the conference. But Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry officials said that Bishkek was not ready to sign up to the convention. They said that this was related to the fact that the danger of militant insurgents still remained. Often the countries with a landmine problem cannot afford the high cost of removing them. Landmines create an enormous cost not only for the countries where they are placed, but for the international community as a whole. A landmine that brings a vendor US $3 in revenue, costs the international community between $300 and $1,000 to clear. At a minimum, the 110 million landmines currently buried worldwide will cost approximately $33 billion for clearance alone. Land mines in Central Asia have became an issue in some border regions after Uzbekistan unilaterally mined its borders with neighbouring Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan after attacks by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in 1999 and 2000. The danger remains real. The Tajik Varorud news agency reported that on Tuesday five Tajik citizens from the Isfara district were blown up in the Mugul mountains of Uzbekistan. Four of them were schoolboys and one of them, Ismoilkhodja Mukarramov, was killed by the blast, while the other three boys were injured. After hearing that that his son had been killed, the dead boy's father Umarkhodja Mukarramov hurried to the location, only to fall victim to another mine himself. "Anti-personnel mines have become a problem in those countries and regions, where there is economic instability. For example, Kyrgyzstan, particularly in Batken province - the most economically backward region - where the problem exacerbates situation in the [already] poverty stricken region," Nurlan Brimkulov, the executive director of the Kyrgyz Committee of IPPNW, explained. Rural people in the southern Kyrgyz province of Batken, living close to the Uzbek border, cannot go to their pastures or gather wood, that they use for their cooking ovens to bake bread. Moreover, they cannot plough the land, which is mined and hundreds of people have lost precious cattle killed by mines. Mine incidents started occurring frequently in 2000 after insurgencies by the IMU, while three children and a man died in 2001, two adolescents and three men in 2002 and one man in 2003. The economic damage due to loss of livestock and lands was estimated to be almost $150,000. In an effort to address the issue, an awareness raising programme started in January this year, with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). "The programme's goal is that people should know to avoid places with mines," Baratbaeva noted, adding that they were also building children playgrounds and youth clubs in the Chon-Kara, Tayan and Sai villages of the southern Kyrgyz Batken district so that the local children and youth have safe places to play and congregate. The Red Crescent Society has also trained six volunteers among local youth, who are educating the local population about the risks associated with mines. The NGO also distributed posters and leaflets to raise awareness, as well as erected signs close to the minefields, warning about the hazard. The programme is already producing startling results. "We can say that thanks to the programme there haven't been any mine incidents since February 2003 as people are now aware of the danger they live in," Baratbayeva highlighted. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are already members of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits the use, production, trade, and stockpiling of mines and requires their destruction within ten years. Turkmenistan says it has destroyed its stockpile of more than 1.1 million antipersonnel mines in advance of its 1 March 2003 deadline. It has chosen, however, to retain 69,200 mines for de-mining training. The Mine Ban Treaty allows member states to keep mines for training purposes, but it must be "the minimum number absolutely necessary." According to the ICBL, most member states deciding to retain mines are keeping only a few hundred or a few thousand, and no other state is keeping more than 17,000. "We are extremely concerned that Turkmenistan is retaining such a large number of mines. The ICBL believes this constitutes a violation of the Mine Ban Treaty," said Dr Roman Dolgov, of IPPNW-Russia, the ICBL's representative in the Russian Federation. "Signing the international treaty and destroying stockpiled mines are just one component of the humanitarian response to the global landmine crisis," said Galieva of the Kyrgyz Committee of the IPPNW, adding that mines had to be removed from the ground before innocent civilians fell victim, and, of course, long-term care and rehabilitation for landmine survivors would be needed for decades to come. According to the ICBL's Landmine Monitor research, 82 countries around the world are affected to some degree by the presence of uncleared landmines and unexploded ordnance. In the 12 months to June 2003, new landmine casualties were reported in 65 countries, including Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The vast majority of casualties were civilians with only 15 percent of reported casualties in 2002 identified as military personnel. The conference in Bishkek was the first since a regional meeting was held in Turkmenistan in 1997.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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