Hollow victory for mine ban campaigners as US opts out

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 September, 1997, 12:00am

US President Bill Clinton last night announced new efforts to eradicate the scourge of landmines even as he risked international condemnation for failing to sign the Oslo agreement banning the devices.

In a bid to deflect criticism for opting out of the treaty, Mr Clinton ordered the Pentagon to study new anti-personnel technologies to replace mines.

He wants them eliminated from the US arsenal - including Korea - within nine years.

Mr Clinton also announced a 25 per cent increase in US funding for global de-mining efforts. America would spend around US$68 million (HK$525 million) in 1998 to remove mines, he said.

But he made it clear that the refusal of other nations in Oslo to give the US greater slack on the issue had made it impossible for him to sign the treaty.

The US had sought several exceptions, including a nine-year delay in implementing the treaty, permission to lay anti-personnel devices to protect anti-tank minefields, and allowing countries to withdraw from the treaty if they came under attack.

It also wanted Korea exempted from the treaty.

Activists strongly opposed the proposals, saying the idea was to ban mines immediately for humanitarian reasons, with no exceptions.

'We went the extra mile and beyond to sign this treaty, but there is a line that I simply cannot cross and that line is the safety and security of our men and women in uniform,' said Mr Clinton.

Nevertheless, anti-mine advocates were thrilled that the draft treaty had won the backing of more than 100 countries.

They believe it will be signed in Ottawa in December and hope, in the meantime, to get the backing of other key powers.

Washington remains involved in parallel talks to achieve a ban under the UN Convention on Disarmament.

As the pro-treaty delegates filed out of the meeting room, they were greeted with applause.

Jody Williams, a leader of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines said: 'We won. No, make that the world won.' Campaigners say mines kill or maim 26,000 people a year, about 80 per cent of them civilians.

The move to ban mines has proceeded with unusual speed since it began 11 months ago. Pressure to conclude a treaty grew after the death of Princess Diana, who had campaigned for a ban.