- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

Land mine heartland

Queen Noor of Jordan knows firsthand about the gruesome toll land mines take on a civilian population.

"Over the past 25 years, reading news reports, driving past Jordan Valley mine fields fenced off by barbed wire, or visiting victims, I have grieved for children and adults in Jordan and the Middle East, some consider the land mine heartland of the world," she said yesterday at the National Press Club.

Speaking as part of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, Queen Noor called for a worldwide effort to end the use of those anti-personnel weapons and to clean up the deadly debris from countless civil wars.

"The 80 million or so land mines that lie hidden today in the fields, forests and roads of approximately 80 countries, and the 250 million stockpiled around the world waiting to be deployed, amount to a land mine for every 12 children on Earth," she said.

"They comprise one of the greatest public health hazards of our time a modern, manmade epidemic. Land mines are indiscriminate killers, unable to distinguish between a soldier's heavy boot and a toddler's bare foot."

Concern for Guatemala

The Organization of American States (OAS) is sending Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria to Guatemala on Monday to reassure President Alfonso Portillo that he will have full diplomatic support in case of a political coup.

The OAS is alarmed by reports of instability and rumors of a plot to take over the government by right-wing extremists opposed to Mr. Portillo's efforts to promote greater democracy in a country with a history of military regimes.

The group adopted a resolution of support last week after hearing Ronalth Ochaeta, Guatemala's ambassador to the OAS, discuss the political situation facing the Central American nation.

Mr. Ochaeta described "incidents that could destabilize the democratic constitutional order in Guatemala," the OAS said in a statement.

The resolution expressed concern over "recent acts of violence against public safety" and restated the group's "obligation to permanently watch over the stability" of democracies in the Western Hemisphere.

The OAS also pledged its "support for the constitutional government of … Guatemala … and for the institutions of the rule of law." It promised to withhold diplomatic recognition from any regime that overthrows a democratically elected government.

In Guatemala, Mr. Portillo has dismissed rumors of Cabinet resignations, military coups and reports of tanks in the street.

But his opposition on the extreme right has been calling for street demonstration and demanding Mr. Portillo resign.

Mr. Portillo, inaugurated in December, represents the conservative Guatemalan Republican Front but has upset elements on the far right by inviting leftist figures to join his Cabinet in an attempt to form a broad-based government.

Reassessing Tigers

Ambassador Ashley Wills returned yesterday from two days in the ethnic Tamil heartland of Sri Lanka with the feeling that the vicious rebels may be changing their tactics.

The U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka said the United States would reconsider its designation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a terrorist group if they begin to pursue peaceful negotiations with the government.

Washington in 1997 declared the LTTE a "foreign terrorist organization" and officially outlawed any fund-raising activities on their behalf in the United States.

"Can the LTTE be transformed into a democratic, political, nonviolent organization?" Mr. Wills asked yesterday.

"If it can, those who have seen it at its ugliest and those who are opposed to its tactics, including the United States, will be obligated to reconsider how they regard the LTTE.

"Certainly, we can even today acknowledge that there are encouraging indications in the LTTE's recent conduct. We hope that the LTTE will continue to refrain from attacking civilian targets and respect the other basic rules of conflict."

Mr. Wills on Wednesday urged the rebels to give up their 18-year war for an independent homeland and to work peacefully to improve the civil rights of the ethnic Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

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