3 April 2007
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE ON MINE ACTION BY UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR PEACEKEEPING


Noting that successful mine action had helped millions of people in mine-affected countries resume normal lives, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, told correspondents today that there was much to celebrate at the occasion of the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, to be observed tomorrow, 4 April.


Speaking at a Headquarters press conference, Mr. Guéhenno noted a 50 per cent reduction in casualty rates during the 10 years since the Ottawa Convention [formally known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction] had come into being.  Mine action had made land safe for agriculture, made it possible for children to walk to school and made roads safe for transportation and commerce.


At the same time, he warned that the explosive remnants of war, including unexploded rockets, mortars and, in particular, cluster bombs, should not be forgotten, reiterating the Organization’s call for stronger international agreements to address the humanitarian impact of such lethal devices.  A typical cluster bomb could contain hundreds of sub-munitions, or bomblets, that could scatter over a wide area.  Those sub-munitions were supposed to explode on impact, but a significant percentage did not.  They had been used in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Viet Nam and, more recently, in the Lebanon-Israel conflict.  Enormous efforts had gone into cleaning up some 100,000 cluster bomblets in Lebanon, but about a million had been used.  Five peacekeepers had been wounded in clearing them, while the Lebanese had suffered 22 deaths and 159 injuries.


Peacekeepers experienced the scourge of mines and explosive remnants of war in many missions, including in those where the conflict had stopped long ago, such as in Western Sahara and Cyprus, he continued.  Mines were a danger to the local population, a great impediment to the resumption of normal life and a danger to the some 100,000 peacekeepers deployed around the world.


He announced that there would be a number of newsworthy events tomorrow in New York and in other cities around the world to mark the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.  Among those was a photography exhibition that the Secretary-General would launch at Headquarters at 1 p.m.


In response to questions, Mr. Guéhenno informed journalists that the United Nations Mine Action Service, located in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, had the greatest operational responsibilities in the Organization.  The Service was active in numerous countries, including in those where there were no peacekeeping operations.


Asked about existing treaties, Mr. Guéhenno said the Ottawa Convention banned a very specific weapon -- the antipersonnel mine.  There was also the 1980 Convention on Prohibitions and Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, which regulated the use of weapons such as landmines, booby-traps and similar devices in conflict.


On whether he or the Secretary-General had an opinion on the possible usefulness of mines, such as in the case of separating the two countries on the Korean peninsula, he said he would leave that question to the Secretary-General.


In response to a question regarding Lebanon, he said the figures he had provided were contained in the Secretary-General’s February report.  Any additional casualties since then would not have been included in those figures.  As for whether Israel was making incursions and laying mines, he said he had no evidence of that.  The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was closely monitoring, and would report any violation of, the “Blue Line” separating the two countries.


Answering a question about the landmine situation in the Balkans, he said an exact figure of how many mines had been laid during the conflict was not available.  One had to look at areas where there were mines.  The problems were in areas with a lot of economic activity, such as agriculture.  There might be but one mine in a field, but no one would go and test where that one mine was.  The entire area was, therefore, off limits for any activity.  There had been a massive effort to clear Kosovo of landmines and explosive remnants of war.  As a result, accidents because of such munitions were now almost nil.


With regard to the situation in Afghanistan, he said that country’s mine programme was a remarkable one, notably in terms of the massive engagement of the Afghan people in the programme.  Afghan non-governmental organizations had played a key role in mine-removal efforts, which continued, since significant areas had not yet been cleared.  The efforts were ongoing and mostly conducted by Afghans.  “I think we all have to pay tribute to their courage and also to the very strong organization that they have developed to address that problem,” he said.


In response to several questions on Darfur, he said it remained essential that the international community came together in the Security Council.  It had been encouraging to see how the Arab League had come together to push for a peaceful resolution of the Darfur crisis.  He hoped that the same unity could be found in the Security Council.


He said that, unfortunately, the United Nations did not have the go-ahead to deploy the peacekeeping force so badly needed.  Stressing the importance of making progress on the political front, he said that, without an agreement with the support of all key stakeholders in Darfur, any peacekeeping force would meet an enormous challenge.  Yesterday, he had spoken with Jan Eliasson [United Nations Special Envoy for Darfur], who had had extensive contacts with most of the stakeholders, including rebel movements.  He would continue to push to bring those people together with the African Union to have the political basis for a successful peacekeeping effort.  It was important not to forget, however, the key political dimension -- inclusive peace as the basis of a successful peacekeeping effort.  “But, on both those fronts, we do not have yet the kind of fundamental good news that we need.”


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For information media • not an official record