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Nobel laureate urges U.S. to join landmine treaty

Professor Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner, speaks during the opening ceremonies of the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureat
Professor Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner, speaks during the opening ceremonies of the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureat

By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - Nobel Peace Laureate and anti-landmine campaigner Jody Williams called on the United States on Monday to join a worldwide pact banning the weapons and leave Russia and China among the few world powers who still reject it.

Williams, who in 1991 launched the grassroots drive which brought the Mine Ban Treaty into existence six years later, was speaking at a news conference before a week-long meeting of the 160 signatory countries to discuss how to improve the accord.

"Since (Barack) Obama has been re-elected as president, we are hoping that the United States will now put in writing what it is doing in practice," said Williams, noting that no U.S. landmines had been produced or deployed since the early 1990s.

"If it is doing it already, why not ratify the treaty?" asked Williams, a U.S. citizen who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work as head of the Geneva-based International Campaign to Band Landmines (ICBL).

This week's gathering at the United Nations European headquarters is formally a 15-year review of the pact which bans the production, deployment and export of landmines and provides for helping victims.

It obliges signatory states to destroy stock piles and clear mines on their territory, even if deployed by other countries during conflicts, and offers them financial support for this costly and often dangerous effort.

Since 122 states joined the accord when it was opened for signatures in 1997 in Ottawa, nearly 40 more have come in, including three over the past 12 years, taking the total to 160, or more than four fifths of U.N. members.

Poland is due to announce its ratification during the week-long meeting, a development that brings all members of the 27-nation European Union as well as the entire NATO alliance, apart from the United States, under the treaty umbrella.

When explaining past decisions to stay outside the pact, Washington has said it could not meet its national defense needs or security commitments to allies if it signed.

The Obama administration has indicated that it is reviewing its position and has sent an observer delegation to this week's meeting. U.S. officials say their country has already taken a strong lead in addressing humanitarian issues linked to mines.

They say the United States is the largest single contributor to funds for helping victims of the weapon, a fact confirmed by the ICBL, and has contributed over $2 billion in aid across 90 countries for the destruction of conventional weapons.

But there has been no sign from Russia or China that they may be reconsidering their stance. Both say they need the weapon to protect long land borders.

The ICBL says only India, Myanmar, Pakistan and South Korea -- all with sensitive frontiers -- are known to be actively producing mines, which were killing or injuring 12 people a day worldwide on average during 2011.

Last week the ICBL's annual Landmine Monitor said that this year only Syria had deployed the weapons, laying them along its borders with Lebanon and Turkey as it battles insurgents seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.

(Reporting by Robert Evans; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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