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Improvised Landmines and Explosive Remnants of War Killing, Maiming More Civilians, Monitoring Group Finds

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, landmines are collected by Syrian engineering troops from the M5 highway, recaptured by President Bashar Assad's forces this week, in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 15, 2020.

This year’s edition of the Landmine Monitor finds civilian casualties are rising because of the new use of improvised landmines by rebel groups in conflict areas and from explosive remnants of war.

Despite several setbacks, authors of the Landmine Monitor proclaim the 1999 landmine treaty an ongoing success. They note 164 countries, or 80 percent of the world’s nations, have signed on to the treaty, which bans the use, production, stockpiling and trade in this lethal weapon.

And, they note, most of the 33 countries outside the treaty are in ad hoc compliance.

The Monitor reports only one state, Myanmar, which is not party to the treaty, used antipersonnel landmines from mid-2019 through October 2020. During the same period, however, it reports the use of improvised landmines by rebel groups increased in a number of countries.

The report says improvised landmines account for over half of the more than 5,550 civilian casualties recorded last year in countries of conflict including Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Mali, Niger, Ukraine and Yemen. It says children represent nearly half of all civilian casualties.

Of the estimated 5,500 casualties, Landmine Monitor research team leader Loren Persi tells VOA around 2,200 were killed and 3,357 injured.

“This ratio of people killed to injured indicates very clearly to us that there were many, many more casualties and that people who were injured by landmines and explosive remnants of war are not being recorded adequately in many countries where there are conflicts,” said Persi.

Since the treaty came into force, the Monitor reports parties have destroyed 55 million stockpiles of antipersonnel landmines, including 269,000 in the past year. It says progress is being made in clearing contaminated areas of landmines.

The monitor lists 12 countries as producers of landmines but reports only a handful are actively producing them.

The director of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division, Stephen Goose, says a decision by the Trump administration to reverse the Obama administration’s policy on ending production of landmines was a major setback to achieving the goal of a mine-free world.

“The U.S. as it stands now is declaring itself eligible to produce the weapon again as it pleases, to trade the weapon as it pleases, to use it anywhere in the world,” said Goose.

When it announced the move in January, the Trump administration said the restrictions could place American forces "at a severe disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries,” and that “the President is unwilling to accept this risk to our troops."

Goose says he is pleased to report that back in February, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden declared that he would reverse the Trump policy if elected. Goose says activists are looking forward to the U.S. once again joining those countries that are in favor of banning this weapon.