''The goal of a world without landmines and explosive remnants of war appears achievable in years - not decades as we used to think," Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, said in a statement marking the first International Day for Mine Awareness on Tuesday.

 

But he warned that a sustained international effort was needed to rid the world of the mine threat.

 

"[T]o realize this ideal, every one of us - donors, the general public and mine-affected countries - must focus our energies, and our imaginations, on the cause of mine clearance," Annan said.

 

''The goal of a world without land mines and explosive remnants of war appears achievable in years -- not decades as we used to think"

Kofi Annan
UN Secretary General

The mine awareness day was established by the UN to focus international attention move toward the eradication of landmines. Events are planned for Tuesday throughout the world.

 

"Having been so effective in laying mines," Annan said, "we must now become even better at clearing them. Each mine cleared may mean a life saved. Each mine cleared brings us one step closer to building the conditions for lasting and productive peace."

 

Eighty-four countries are affected by landmines and unexploded ordnance, according to the UN.

 

Anti-personal mines continue to
kill and maim millions

The Landmine Monitor Report 2005, published by Mines Action Canada, said the three countries with the highest number of reported new landmine injuries or fatalities in 2004 were Cambodia with 898, Afghanistan with 878 and Colombia with 863.

 

The UN says that a lot of work also needs to be done in Iraq, Angola, Sudan, Bosnia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

 

Experts say that Jordan, Senegal, Mauritania and Albania could be clear of mines within five years.

  

Annan said the 1997 Ottawa Convention, which prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines, is producing tangible results including unprecedented collaboration among key players to address the problem.

 

The treaty has been signed by 150 countries, but not the United States, Russia and China.

 

Still, Annan said the production and laying of mines was declining, the global trade in mines has virtually halted, stockpiles have been destroyed and mine clearance has accelerated.

 

Donors must follow

 

"South Sudan is in a way competing with places such as Afghanistan and Cambodia where the mine problem is huge. So donors do not necesarrily see mine activities as a priority in south Sudan, but they are crucial"

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 

Max Gaylard, who heads the United Nations Mine Action Service, told reporters on Monday that "continuing donor support is critical" to ridding the world of mines and other unexploded weapons from wars.

 

He also stressed that deadly anti-personnel mines continued to prevent millions of farmers from growing crops, children from playing outside, and displaced people from returning to their homes.

 

For example, mines in south Sudan, where a 21-year-old civil war with the north ended last January, are preventing hundreds of thousands of refugees from going back home.

 

Moreover, the area to demine is huge and donor support limited.

 

"South Sudan is in a way competing with places such as Afghanistan and Cambodia where the mine problem is huge. So donors do not necesarrily see mine activities as a priority in south Sudan, but they are crucial," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement issued to mark Mine Awareness Day.

 

According to the most recent figures, deaths and injuries from land mines have decreased from 26,000 a year in the late 1990s. But the often hidden devices left over from conflicts are still killing and maiming between 15,000 and 20,000 people annually.

 

Top priority

 

In 2004, nearly $400 million was donated for mine action, with $96.5 million coming from the United States. Afghanistan was the largest recipient of international mine-clearing aid that year, getting $91.8 million.

 

Gaylard said three governments were reported to have used land mines in 2005 - Nepal, Myanmar and Russia (in the breakaway region of Chechnya).

 

Andrey Denisov, the Russian ambassador to the UN, claimed that if landmines were used, it was not by Russian troops but by the Chechen rebels.

 

The UN now has a much better idea of the scale of the problem, Gaylard said, "and it's still pretty big," but there is also a much stronger international commitment to do something about it.

 

Nobody knows how many mines are still buried in the ground, but the UN and other groups do know the number of communities and countries affected, he said.

 

Clearing landmines is "a top priority" Angola's ambassador to the UN, Ismael Gaspar Martins, told the press conference.

 

"It's not just a humanitarian problem, it is also a development problem, and we think that without it we cannot clear our lands and transform affected lands into productive lands."

 

Angola was gripped by a 30-year civil war, during which landmines were extensively used and continue to kill and maim and also hamper the country's recovery.