I am writing concerning the editorial “Heavy Toll: Land Mines Meant to Deter Troops Still Kill Civilians” (July 14). As coordinator for the West Virginia Campaign to Ban Landmines, I can attest to the severity of this problem having traveled to mine-affected regions like Bosnia and Cambodia, where I was able to document land mine removal. As the recent instance of severe flooding in Bosnia shows, marking mined areas is not enough. Clearing land mines is a costly, tedious and dangerous operation, but it must be done in order for land to become usable again.
Land mines and explosive remnants of war are among the threats and difficulties that the people in mine-affected regions including children, face every day.
Because antipersonnel mines are indiscriminate and stay in or on the ground long after wars end, the vast majority of victims are civilians, not soldiers. This is not just during a conflict — most of the countries where casualties are reported are at peace. Victims include people simply trying to provide for the lives of their families (cutting wood, farming and retrieving water). Small family farms that populate these countries are essential for their food security.
Land mines don’t just target civilians, they also injure and kill soldiers — the very people they are meant to protect. In the 1991 Gulf War, land mines caused 34 percent of U.S. casualties. The long-term humanitarian costs of mines far outweigh any limited military utility. This is why many former military personnel support a ban on antipersonnel mines and reject mine use. Mine Ban Treaty members include all European Union countries, all NATO members except the United States, all nations in sub-Saharan Africa, all countries in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba and the United States, many countries in Asia-Pacific, and several nations from the Middle East, North Africa and the former Soviet Union.
Campaigners, including West Virginia Campaign to Ban Landmines, continue to urge all countries, including the United States, to get on board the treaty to ban land mines. The world has agreed that biological and chemical weapons may not be used. It is time to ban these weapons recognizing that any conceivable use is outweighed by the moral consequences. We encourage individuals to join us in urging President Barack Obama to join the Ottawa Treaty banning antipersonnel land mines without delay.
NORA D. SHEETS