Air Date: June 4, 1996 Program 9623


Tore Skedsmo, Chief, Demining Unit, UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations
Ariane Sand-Trigo, Attaché, International Committee of the Red Cross
Karl Frederick Inderfurth, US Representative for Special Political Affairs, US Mission to the United Nations

MARY GRAY DAVIDSON: This is Common Ground, a program on world affairs and the people who shape events.

KARL FREDERICK INDERFURTH: Land mines have become the Saturday Night Specials of regional conflict. They are easy to get, easy to use, and easy to hide.

DAVIDSON: Land mines are a cheap weapon. There are around a hundred million of them scattered throughout the world, and they go on working long after a war is over.

TORE SKEDSMO: Approximately every 15 minutes one other civilian person is blown up somewhere, caused by a land mine.

DAVIDSON: Common Ground is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Mary Gray Davidson. Unlike nuclear weapons or biological warfare, there is one weapon of mass destruction you don't hear much about, but land mines have had a devastating effect throughout the world. Ariane Sand-Trigo works for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which works firsthand with victims of armed conflicts and sees daily the effects of land mines.

ARIANE SAND-TRIGO: Land mines are estimated to be present in a dangerous rate in approximately 68 countries all around the world. Countries that are mostly hit are Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Central America, and right now we see it in Bosnia. Land mines have in the last years presented a big threat, for example, to peacekeeping forces with over 85 peacekeepers that have been killed by land mines. Just to give you a recent example, land mines are estimated to have been laid in the context of the former Yugoslavia at a rate of 60,000 per week. The problem is growing worse at a dramatic rate, since for every mine that is removed it is estimated that 20 more are put into the ground. So at this pace the whole world is going to be infested by land mines and not only 68 countries.

DAVIDSON: Once the conflict ends that doesn't mean that's the end of the land mines, does it?

SAND-TRIGO: It is not. Actually, land mines can cause these terrible wounds and terrible suffering for decades after the conflict has ended. The most common consequence is probably the loss of a limb. In that sense land mines don't only tear and burn tissue, but they blow all kinds of fragments and dirt deep into the affected area, that's the effect of the explosion. And there are different types of mines. The one that you step on will obviously seriously injure your legs, your feet. The so-called jumping mines that explode at the height of your stomach will seriously damage your genitals and your eyesight, so you'll probably end up blind as a consequence.

DAVIDSON: After a conflict, are the victims of land mines that you deal with mostly civilians?

SAND-TRIGO: We estimate that in our hospitals approximately 58 percent of land mine victims are civilians. Then again, it depends on which conflict you are talking about. For example, Somalia was a very sad example, where 64 percent of land mine victims were women and children. So, there is even another category. In Afghanistan, for example, it can go up to 75 percent of the war-wounded that we see that have been injured by land mines. Another thing you could mention regarding the initial blast is that people very often underestimate the time it can take to get to the nearest hospital, especially in countries where ambulance services are rare and helicopter evacuation is almost unheard of. It can take days, even weeks, for a land mine victim to get to the nearest hospital. To give you an example, only 20 percent of land mine victims that are admitted in ICRC hospitals are admitted within six hours of the blast.

DAVIDSON: Is that a crucial period?

SAND-TRIGO: It is a crucial period in the sense that in order to treat a land mine victim successfully the surgery has to be performed as soon as possible. Approximately 15 percent of land mine victims have to travel for more than three days to get to a hospital. That means no medication and no anesthesia. That could mean a three-day ride through mountains, desert, and paddy fields on the back of a donkey, the back of a truck, or whatever. Then, again, once they reach the hospital the suffering of the victim is very often further enhanced by the lack of training and knowledge in war surgery, because this particular injury is very rarely (or almost never) seen in civilian practice. In that respect, the ICRC has developed specific surgical techniques that apply to amputation and specifically amputations that are needed as a result of a land mine injury.

DAVIDSON: I would imagine with that kind of amputation the need for rehabilitation is very great. But in a lot of these countries that are involved in conflicts or perhaps recovering and rebuilding from a conflict are there very often facilities available for rehabilitation or learning how to deal with an amputated limb?

SAND-TRIGO: There are many organizations that have become involved in rehabilitation, along with the ICRC, when the past ten years has fitted over 60,000 people with prostheses. Unfortunately, many people will have to rely on crutches for the rest of their lives. First of all because demand always outruns supply. Second because prostheses are expensive items. You have to keep that in mind. A prothesis runs on the average (with a fitting and everything) at about $125. And a prothesis has to be replaced very often, especially in the case of children. Children that are growing have to have their prothesis replaced every six to eight months. In countries where the average per capita income is between $20 and $50, one single prothesis that has to be replaced that costs $125 is extremely expensive. Also, the manufacture and fitting of these protheses require specialized workshops and trained technicians that are simply not available in land mine-infested countries. That's why we see so many people that cannot afford a prothesis.

DAVIDSON: How often are children the victim of land mines?

SAND-TRIGO: It's very hard to say. It depends on the conflict. It depends on the area. It's very hard to say. As I said before, in Somalia we've seen a very, very high rate of children that have been affected. For them, and also for young adults, the psychological trauma afterward is maybe even worse than for an elderly person. Because usually it means poor marriage prospects, isolation, divorce, or unemployment—they won't be able to find a job—which usually are what characterizes the rest of their lives. That's not something that makes rehabilitation easier.

[Sound of voice, followed by explosion]

DAVIDSON: This is a controlled land mine explosion. It's part of a UN effort to clear away the land mines left after a war. It's a painstaking effort. Whereas land mines can be bought for as little as $3 apiece, it can cost up to a $1,000 to remove just one. There's an expression that says land mines are removed an arm and a leg at a time. But the UN's demining unit is working to prevent such a tragedy. Tore Skedsmo is Chief of the UN's demining operations.

SKEDSMO: Approximately every 15 minutes another civilian person is blown up somewhere, caused by a land mine.

DAVIDSON: In the world every 15 minutes there is someone who is...

SKEDSMO: Yes, roughly. Somebody says it's 15 [minutes], somebody says 22 minutes. While we are talking here, one or two are blown up. Among my own people we have roughly 6,000 working for us in our programs, and we have somewhat more than one accident a week.

DAVIDSON: I would imagine there would be no way that the United Nations could take on the job of getting rid of the mines in the world?

SKEDSMO: There is no way any one group, company, or nation can take on that responsibility. It is one of the worst and most complicated problems we have in the world today. This has to be a joint effort from everybody to get it done. It is a problem where we talk about a 100 million mines, plus or minus, in the ground and another 100 million mines in warehouses. We are able to clear, for the time being, roughly 100,000 mines a year.

DAVIDSON: One hundred thousand out of the 100 hundred million?


DAVIDSON: Then how many are being laid fresh?

SKEDSMO: It's very difficult to say, but the figure which we have been operating with in recent years was two million a year or something like that.

DAVIDSON: Two million a year being laid, and you can take out 100,000...

SKEDSMO: That's right.

DAVIDSON: one year.

SKEDSMO: That's the situation for the time being.

DAVIDSON: Maybe we should talk about some of these mines that you've got sitting here in front of us. What's the difference in these mines?

SKEDSMO: All these mines you have in front of you are antipersonnel mines. They are made to maim or kill people. So you are not seeing any antivehicle or antitank or anything like that. These are made for people. There are three in front of you. Two of them are what we call blast mines. They just explode, period. They normally kill or maim one person, each. The other one, the big one with the horns on, that's a "Bouncing Betty." That one jumps up out of the ground, up 3½ feet approximately, then it detonates and it sends out shrapnels in a radius of 30 meters...

DAVIDSON: It has like these spikes on it.

SKEDSMO: Within the box there is some 10,000 small metal pieces which are sent out in a radius of 30 meters and can kill a whole group of people at the same time.

DAVIDSON: Those things are all small enough and colored so that you really wouldn't be able to see them if you were walking along.

SKEDSMO: All of them are normally dug down in the ground. For this big one, it's just the spike which comes up. The other ones are not supposed to be seen at all.

DAVIDSON: So a slight pressure on it would that set it off?

SKEDSMO: Yes. Three to seven kilos normally, for these and a trip wire on that one.

DAVIDSON: Where are these mines made? Who are the chief manufacturers and exporters of mines in the world?

SKEDSMO: It's a difficult question, because nobody brags about doing that anymore. Since a lot of countries now are applying export moratoriums on their mine production, the production has moved around from one country to another. Some countries do not produce mines anymore. They just produce all the bits and pieces and export plastic pieces to other countries which happen to put them together and they turn out to be mines. So it's a difficult task to keep track of them. China is still big. There are some of the countries on the subcontinent which are big. The biggest arms race in the world for the time being is in Asia. A lot of European countries are still making so-called intelligent mines. The United States is still making mines and having mines. They have an export moratorium for the time being.

DAVIDSON: So they're stockpiled? I mean the manufacturers are just storing them up right now?

SKEDSMO: A lot of the military's thinking in all countries are based on having available stores or equipment which you might need some other time. So that's not a surprise. That is a normal way of thinking. If we can stop the export [of materials], that would be a major step forward. The next level, which the Secretary General constantly urges for, is the stop of production, stop all use, and stop all stockpiling of land mines.

DAVIDSON: We'll take a break for a moment. When we return, we'll continue with the UN's demining program, plus other efforts to rid the world of land mines.

TV ANNOUNCER: Land mines maim thousands of innocent civilians every month. The injuries caused are too horrific to show on TV. If they're too horrific to show, imagine what they're like to live with. [Music]

DAVIDSON: We're talking on this edition of Common Ground about land mines and the immense suffering they've caused even decades after a conflict ends.

Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details on how to order.

DAVIDSON: Is it because of the removal technology or is it just a matter of manpower not being sufficient to keep up with all the mines that are out there?

SKEDSMO: There are three things we need to change this situation. The first thing is we need more money. You ask manpower? There are enouph people who want the job, and we have the capacity to train them if you want to. But we cannot afford to have them working. Money is the first thing. The next thing is that we need other technology. We are still working on 1942 technology. A lot of people promised us...

DAVIDSON: ...for the demining?

SKEDSMO: ...for demining.

DAVIDSON: 1942? That's World War II technology.

SKEDSMO: Roughly, yes. That's right.

DAVIDSON: These mines that are being placed out there now, I would assume, have advanced since 1942.

SKEDSMO: Absolutely. At that time we were looking for fairly big metal boxes. Now we are looking for small snuff-box-size plastic things with down to 0.6 grams of metal in them.

DAVIDSON: Yes. I'm looking at this one right now that looks about like the size of a travel alarm clock, and that's mostly plastic?

SKEDSMO: It has 0.6 grams of metal in it.

DAVIDSON: Can a metal detector find something with such a small amount of metal in it?

SKEDSMO: A good metal detector can find it. That is not our main problem. Our main problem is that a good metal detector which can find 0.6 grams of metal finds all other metal, including all iron ore in the ground, before it finds the mine.

DAVIDSON: So you're constantly sorting and sifting through all sorts of garbage.

SKEDSMO: Absolutely.

DAVIDSON: If you have some underbrush that's several inches high or more, it would be kind of difficult to get it down close to the...

SKEDSMO: You can't do it.

DAVIDSON: ...source of the metal.

SKEDSMO: You can't do it. We cannot put in a guy with a lawn mower to cut down the bushes. We have to go down on our knees with a knife and scissors and cut down one piece of grass or one branch on the bush at a time. We have to see whether there is a trip wire in there, because that's going to kill us. And then the third thing, we need to stop the use of mines. We don't have this overwhelming use of new mines all the time, which we have to cope with.

ANNOUNCER: The ICRC is committed to a world-wide ban on the production, export, and use of land mines. Land mines must be stopped.

DAVIDSON: The momentum is building to rid the world of these indiscriminate weapons. In 1994 the ICRC launched a worldwide campaign calling for a total ban on the production, transfer, stockpile, and use of land mines. It's an unprecedented step for the organization, known for it's neutrality, but necessary to stop what it sees as mindless carnage.

SAND-TRIGO: The ICRC has stated on various occasions that the only solution to the humanitarian tragedy land mines have created is a total ban. It is to prohibit their production, their use, their transfer and their stockpiling, because placing limits only on the use of land mines will not be effective without restriction on the production and the transfer. As I said before, it's the cheapness and the easy availability of these weapons that have contributed to the enormous scale of the problem. In the course of that campaign the ICRC has launched, for the first time actually in its history, a huge media campaign. It's going to be a campaign that is available in over ten languages, and free advertising time and space have been granted to this campaign that will be taken up by national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. The main logo is "Land mines must be stopped."

DAVIDSON: The United States has made some efforts to slow down the deluge of land mines. Since 1992 the United States has observed an export moratorium on antipersonnel mines. In 1994 President Clinton initiated the call for the eventual elimination of antipersonnel mines. Carl Frederick Inderfurth is the US Representative for Special Political Affairs at the US Mission to the United Nations.

INDERFURTH: The US government supports demining activities in many countries of the world, where we are assisting in identifying, locating, and then destroying land mines. We are also working to control and restrict their use and to limit their use to certain circumstances and to make them more detectable. In other words to require a certain metal content. Many countries around the world say that land mines are absolutely essential to their self-defense. They're not the ones dropping them off and never being able to find them and leaving them behind for children to walk out in the fields and get blown up. They're using them along their borders, they're using them in marked mine fields. They say that these are important for them.

This is where Congress has been so important (Senator Patrick Leahy leading the way, and with large bipartisan support in both houses of Congress), the United States has adopted a moratorium on the export of land mines. We do not export land mines around the world any longer. Then we took that Congressional initiative, embraced it in the new Clinton administration, and then placed that into our resolution here at the United Nations. I'm very pleased that almost 30 countries have now adopted a moratorium on land mines being exported. So that's another element. Don't export them.

Canada had an interesting statement. Their defense minister and foreign minister jointly made the announcement that Canada was going out of the antipersonnel land mine business, if you will. The Canadian defense minister said, "We are not part of the problem, but we will be part of the solution." Meaning Canada uses antipersonnel land mines in a responsible fashion; but because of these humanitarian consequences, they believe that they have to show leadership and say "We renounce the use and so should everyone else."

Of course, the purpose here is to place, for those countries that are moving in that direction, antipersonnel land mines in the same category as other inhumane weapons like chemical weapons and biological weapons and to say there is no justification for these. I mean, when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on the Kurds several years ago it was very clear that he had crossed the bounds of international behavior. The whole world, because chemical weapons have been branded as outlaw weapons, immediately responded to that use of chemical weapons by him.

DAVIDSON: Land mines have been around since the beginning of this century. Why has this become an issue now?

INDERFURTH: Several people, including Senator Leahy and Ambassador Albright, have referred, land mines have become the Saturday Night Specials of regional conflict. As you see, the numbers of civil wars and conflicts taking place around the world today, antipersonnel land mines are a cheap way of warfare. They are easy to get, easy to use, and easy to hide. They do just have terrible consequences, not only from the standpoint of the casualties. It means that whole areas of land are just unusable, which as you know in an agrarian society when you take out large areas of land from production and that has a devastating impact on the economy and people's livelihoods. I think it's simply a factor that we do see so many conflicts and it is, these are the Saturday Night Specials.

DAVIDSON: In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, retired US Lieutenant General Bernard Trainer(sp?) said that trying to outlaw land mines is an exercise in futility. It's like trying to outlaw war itself. How do you respond to that?

INDERFURTH: Oh, I think that is an exaggeration. Again, just as you have done and you have seen with other types of weapons, again going back to chemical or biological, yes there's always the potential that someone will break that ban. But the fact that the international community has placed it beyond the pale means that the numbers start to come down. People can't produce, they can't export, without being possibly identified as...

DAVIDSON: Make them pariahs.

INDERFURTH: ...war criminals for doing these things. Yes. When you have those numbers, there's no question that it is an enormous task. But when you realize that the numbers each year go up so dramatically and the numbers of mines cleared are just so few in comparison, you've got to start somewhere.

DAVIDSON: When President Clinton made a statement two years ago, at that time you supported the use of what are called "smart mines," mines that would eventually deactivate unlike other mines that just lay around. Does he still support such a policy?

INDERFURTH: Again, there are different types of land mines. The ones that are chiefly responsible for civilian casualties are the small antipersonnel land mines. Now, within that category there are the so-called long-lived land mines that do lay around for literally decades. There are still land mines going off from World War I in Europe or World War II in Libya. They still have land mine explosions there, but there is now the possibility to have self-destructing or self-neutralizing land mines. Their batteries run out, or their energy source comes to an end. That is certainly a better device, if one were to use those, than the long-lived. At the same time, there are very few countries that have the ability to produce those land mines. They are more expensive. I'm not sure where that debate will go, because many of the developing countries say, "Now wait a minute. If we're talking about ridding the world of land mines, we're talking about all land mines not just the long-lived which are cheap and we have access to."

DAVIDSON: Tore Skedsmo of the UN's Demining Unit says it may look like the world is losing the battle against land mines, but it's not a hopeless cause.

SKEDSMO: People say that it must be depressing working with these things and seeing how slow it moves. If 100,000 mines out of the ground means that 100,000 kids can walk around the rest of their lives with two legs, I'm fairly proud of that. We have to put positive aspects on it. We know that parts of Afghanistan will be cleared within this year or next, so that normal life comes back. That is the same situation in other places. The farmers are often standing with their equipment ready to plow up the ground as soon as our units have moved forward. There are positive signs. I think that the technology thing might help. There is a lot of interest. Nobody has found a solution yet. I am personally absolutely convinced that with the right combination of off-the-shelf electronics we can do it. Nobody has just done it yet.

DAVIDSON: For Common Ground, I'm Mary Gray Davidson. Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free and cassettes cost $5.00. To order a tape or transcript or if you'd like to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at the Stanley Foundation, 216 Sycamore Street, Suite 500, Muscatine, Iowa. The zip code is 52761. Be sure to refer to Program No. 9623. To order by credit card, you can call us at 319-264-1500.

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