Conference urged to step up anti landmine drive

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Governments were urged on Monday to step up efforts to clear landmines and assist maimed victims at the beginning of a conference taking stock of an international ban on the weapons.

"Every victim of an anti-personnel landmine is one victim too many," said Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey at the opening of the meeting of governments, aid workers and campaigners in the Swiss city of Geneva.

Since it came into force in 1999, the Ottawa Convention ratified by 156 nations has banned the use, production stockpiling and trade in anti-personnel landmines. But major powers -- China, India, Russia and the United States -- have shunned the treaty so far.

It also requires state parties to clear their territories of mines within 10 years of joining and destroy stockpiles within four years.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jakob Kellenberger, called on governments to place "the protection of civilians above political and regional considerations" when examining requests for extensions.

The one-week conference chaired by Albania is due to examine bids to extend mine clearance deadlines from Colombia, Chad, Denmark, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Zimbabwe.

Myanmar remains the only nation still laying landmines, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

Landmines and explosive remnants of war caused 3,956 new casualties in 2009, the lowest annual total since monitoring began in 1999 and 28 percent less than in 2008.

Only three countries are still actively making mines -- India, Myanmar and Pakistan. Nepal has stopped producing.

However, non-state armed groups in Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Myanmar, Pakistan and Yemen are continuing to lay the deadly weapons.

© 2010 AFP

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