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US moves to phase out landmines

The United States on Friday signalled its intent to eliminate its stockpile of anti-personnel landmines and to eventually join a global treaty banning them, boosting efforts to rid the world of the weapons.

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday signalled its intent to eliminate its stockpile of anti-personnel landmines (APLs) and to eventually join a global treaty banning them, boosting efforts to rid the world of the weapons.

The high-profile announcement was made at a conference in Maputo, Mozambique, which was aimed at ultimately ensuring no armed forces use APLs by 2025.

The number of people killed or maimed by landmines fell in 2012, the global watchdog Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor says, but was still at 4,000. In many cases, the mines are leftovers from wars that ended decades earlier.

"Today at a review conference in Maputo, Mozambique, the United States took the step of declaring it will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel landmines in the future, including to replace existing stockpiles as they expire," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said a statement.

In 2009, Washington said it was reviewing its position on landmines but -- along with Russia and China -- has failed to sign the Ottawa Convention that bans the use of APLs and envisions their eventual elimination.

Nuclear powers India and Pakistan have also not signed up, and nor has Iran.

Long-standing critics of the US policy say Washington's rivals are waiting for the United States to move before they do likewise.

The White House gave no timeline as to when it might eventually sign the treaty, but Hayden said: "Our delegation in Maputo made clear that we are diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention."

"We are conducting a high fidelity modelling and simulation effort to ascertain how to mitigate the risks associated with the loss of APL," she said.

"Other aspects of our landmine policy remain under consideration and we will share outcomes from that process as we are in a position to do so."

The United States has provided more than US$2.3 billion in aid since 1993 in more than 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction programmes, Hayden noted.

Since Mozambique hosted its first landmine conference in 1999, the number of state parties to the mine ban convention has more than tripled from 45 to 161, although key major powers remain on the sidelines.

The US stockpile is believed to consist of about nine million self-destruct anti-personnel mines, Human Rights Watch said, cautiously welcoming Washington's announcement.

"The US has finally come out of the shadows in indicating it intends to join the landmine treaty, and let's hope it will move ahead rapidly to come on board," said Steve Goose, HRW arms director.

"This is an important acknowledgment that the treaty provides the best framework for achieving a world free of deadly anti-personnel mines."

The executive director of Handicap International US, Elizabeth MacNairn, welcomed the announcement but cautioned that the lack of a timeline meant Washington "runs the risk of allowing its landmine policy review to drift" beyond the end of President Barack Obama's time in office.

But Howard "Buck" McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, accused Obama of being more interested in playing politics than saving lives.

"Once again, the president makes an end-run around Congress and demonstrates his willingness to place politics above the advice of our military leaders," McKeon said.

"His announcement today is perfect for a feel-good press release but bad for the security of our men and women in uniform.

"It is truly an expensive solution in search of a nonexistent problem. Irresponsible landmine use by other countries has come at a high humanitarian price, but America isn't part of that problem."

Mozambique, once one of the world's most heavily-mined countries, is held up as an example of successful mine clearance in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the 1990s, it was estimated it would take 50-100 years to rid the former Portuguese colony of landmines planted during its war of independence and a subsequent civil conflict.

Today the country has set a deadline of the end of the year to be free of all known landmines. 

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