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Groups cite high number of land mine casualties

At least 5,554 people were killed or wounded last year because they stepped on a land mine or other unexploded devices from war, a new report found.

GENEVA (AN) — At least 5,554 people — mostly civilians, including many children — were killed or wounded last year because they stepped on a land mine or other unexploded devices left behind in war, advocacy groups reported on Thursday.

The 2019 figures amount to a 40% increase from the 3,956 victims reported a decade earlier, which were at that time the lowest number for any year since the first Landmine Monitor report in 1999. The report is produced by Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines, or ICBL, a global network of nongovernmental organizations in 100 nations.

The vast majority of casualties, some 80%, involved civilians. Among those civilians, 43% were children, ICBL and Geneva-based Cluster Munition Coalition, or CMC, said in a joint statement.

The advocacy groups work to implement the 1999 Mine Ban Treaty, which 164 nations have joined. The treaty prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines, and it also applies to victim assistance and mine clearance.

“Every mine left in the ground represents a human toll in lives and limbs lost,” said Margaret Arach Orech, an ICBL ambassador and survivors' rights advocate.

During a virtual briefing hosted by Renata Dwan, director of the Geneva-based United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, or UNIDIR, the advocacy groups emphasized that progress was being made despite the high numbers of recorded casualties.

Some 123,000 landmines were destroyed and at least 156 square kilometers of land was reported cleared of landmines around the world last year. In that regard the treaty "continues to be a great success," said Stephen Goose, director of Human Rights Watch's arms division.

However, he added, "there's no doubt" that the pandemic has made it more difficult to keep working towards the goal of creating a mine-free world because of the challenges of dealing with health safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The advocacy groups noted that 2019 was the fifth year in a row with high numbers of recorded casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war, mainly due to "intensive armed conflict and the large-scale impact of improvised mines."

More than half of the casualties, or 2,949, were caused by improvised mines, which are victim-activated explosive devices, known as IEDs, that are powerful enough to disable a military tank but so sensitive a child can trigger one by stepping on it.

'A human toll'

Only 32 states remain outside the treaty — notably including China, Egypt, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the United States — but most of those that do not participate "do not actually use or produce anti-personnel mines," according to ICBL tallies on the treaty's status.

Earlier this year, U.S. President Donald Trump's administration reversed the Obama administration’s prohibition on using anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula, on the grounds that doing so would reduce risks to American troops. President-elect Joe Biden, however, has promised to undo Trump's reversal by re-imposing the prohibition.

The report said just one nation, Myanmar, that is not party to the treaty has been confirmed to have used anti-personnel landmines during the past year.

The 5,554 recorded casualties for 2019 — a decline from 6,897 recorded casualties in 2018 — were spread among 55 nations and territories. They included 2,170 people killed, 3,357 injured and 27 others whose status was unknown.

Most of the victims last year were in Afghanistan, Mali, Myanmar, Syria and Ukraine, according to aid organization Handicap International.

Last year's casualty figures were 60% higher than the lowest number recorded — 3,457 casualties in 2013 — since the monitor began.

“Seven years ago, we reached an all-time low in new landmine casualties. But this achievement has overturned, and we are seeing heightened numbers of civilians killed and wounded," said Loren Persi, who edited the report.

"Appallingly, nearly half of all these casualties are children," he said. "We need to act now to reverse this trend, to save lives, and to address the trauma and suffering with much needed assistance.”