- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 9, 2006

Removing land mines

NEW YORK — Activists recently celebrated good news in their global effort to locate and remove buried explosives in more than 80 nations: It may take decades, not centuries, to eliminate the problem.

In the late 1990s, mines killed or maimed about 25,000 people per year. Now the figure is closer to 15,000 and declining.

“Some years ago, we were talking about hundreds of years to solve problems of mine action in Afghanistan and other parts of the world,” said Max Gaylard, director of the Mine Action Service in the U.N. peacekeeping department.

“Now we’re talking about maybe a decade — certainly years and not many decades,” he said.

Mr. Gaylard said improved de-mining technology and international cooperation in mapping and funding efforts are the main reasons for the revised estimate. About 150 governments have signed or ratified the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which outlaws the production, use, stockpiling and sale of a variety of anti-personnel munitions.

About 50 militias have signed a separate but similar agreement, known as the Geneva Call, drafted for non-state groups that have used land mines in their conflicts.

U.N. officials estimate that 82 countries have unexploded ordnance on their territory. Among those areas thought to have the most are Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia,Cambodia, Colombia, Iraq, Sudan and the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

“Having been so effective in laying mines, we must now become even better at clearing them,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at a Mine Awareness Day fundraising dinner for Adopt-A-Minefield, a nongovernmental organization that has spent $17 million to eliminate land mines and help survivors.

Just a few land mines, cluster bombs or unexploded ordnance near international borders or in disputed territories can keep farmers from fertile fields. Children playing or collecting firewood are often explosion victims.

The Mine Action Service says three governments are reported to have used land mines since last year: Burma, Nepal and Russia, which is mired in conflict with separatists in Chechnya.

“If land mines were used in Chechnya, they were not used by federal troops but against them,” said Russian U.N. Ambassador Andrey Denisov. “Land mines are used by rebels.”

Mr. Denisov said Moscow has not signed the treaty outlawing land mines but adheres to its principles against producing, stockpiling and using them.

Drought aid sought

Drought in the Horn of Africa threatens more than 8 million people in five countries, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is seeking $426 million for the region.

The emergency funds for Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia will be used to stabilize or upgrade sanitation and water systems, improve nutrition and health, and safeguard livestock, the United Nations said Friday. A day earlier, the Bush administration announced a $92 million contribution for the Horn of Africa, in addition to about $150 million pledged previously.

Washington honored

If you’re wondering what kind of taste U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton has, it’s traditional. Very traditional. Patriotic, even.

At a reception last week to show paintings lent to decorate the ambassador’s New York residence, the face of George Washington was everywhere. A study for the familiar Gilbert Stuart portrait in the formal dining room and several other images were scattered throughout the living room, foyer and family room.

There also are images of cowboys and Indians, such as Adam Jahiel’s large-format black-and-white photos of the American West.

Asked about all the George Washingtons in his home, Mr. Bolton seemed uncharacteristically dispassionate. “First in war, first in peace, father of our country?” he asked helpfully.

“Actually, I like them very much,” said his wife, financial planner Gretchen Bolton. “Whoever thought I’d get to live with a James Peele or a Gilbert Stuart?”

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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