Air Date: January 13, 1998 Program 9802


Members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize

(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

MARY GRAY DAVIDSON: This is Common Ground. On this week's program we learn about the devastating effect of landmines and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.

MICHAEL HANDS: The very first thing I saw when I drove into Tulsa was I went across the road to get, buy some water. And there were six young men sitting there and every single one of them had lost their leg. Just sitting there at a bar. It was a very common sight.

DAVIDSON: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Mary Gray Davidson.

HANDS: When you step on the mine it explodes immediately. It's not like you see on Hollywood, where they step on a mine and they go "Bob, I'm on a mine." And they come running out and he gets his knife and he puts a box on there. When you step on the mine it sets off like that! [sound of explosion and people oohing and aahing]. Straight away. I meant to tell you about that.

DAVIDSON: Michael Hands is a former British military officer who now works for Norwegian Peoples Aid, de-mining some of the hundred million landmines left over from wars around the world. He is also a part of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and has been touring the United States raising awareness about the issue.

HANDS: All right, this is a PMN. It's a Russian mine, again. Two-hundred-forty grams of explosive. This would instantly take both of your legs off, probably your genitals. It can drive air into your rectum and cause internal damage in your lower intestines. It can dislocate your leg and drive the bone straight up into your body. If you're bent over, you're gonna die. It would just pepper your stomach with holes. From a military point of view these were not effective enough. They only injured the person who stepped on the mine, or those in the vicinity. So they designed a fragmentation mine. This is another Russian mine. I'm not picking on the Russians, we all make them, or did. So if this exploded here, one of these fragments could probably go straight through 3 people.

DAVIDSON: Here, Michael Hands is demonstrating to a group of American university students how he goes about his de-mining work.

HANDS: The area I'm standing in is safe, fortunately. Each man has to concentrate on a specific area. The work is very slow, tedious, boring, hot and dangerous. We take a one-meter length wide lane. Each man concentrates on this area. Over that line is the uncleared ground. We use the metal detector to indicate if there's any fragments of metal in the ground. It does not tell us it's dangerous, it just tells us we have to be more careful in that area. Every single fragment of metal has to be removed. And you can imagine when there's a war there's fragments everywhere. So, I will check the area three times, backwards and forwards. If I hear any indication [beeping sound] I will try to pinpoint it. And then I may mark it with a leaf or a piece of paper, just so I remember where it is. And then we pick up the highly technical piece of equipment. Now, what we're trying to do doesn't take the brains of an archbishop. We're trying to find the side of the mine, not the top. You got that? Not the top, the side. Okay? If you find the top it's end X. So you try to find the side of the mine. So obviously, it is a very slow process. FIND! [Shouting] Okay, as soon as I think I've found something I will shout "Find," and that is to warn the other people in the area and also get the medics out of bed so they're ready in case there's accidents. Well, they won't be in bed, honest. They're normally drinking coffee back in the Land Rover.

So, what we do is once we've uncovered it just enough to attach the fishing hook, we attach the fishing hook, withdraw to a safe distance and then pull it. Now, the actual technical side of it, sometimes you will blow them up where they are, or you will pull it. That depends on the type of mine and the situation. Okay? If you ever decide to do this, a little user's tip is always put a little loop in the line because if you trip over it when you're walking away it can spoil your day. This will be at least a hundred meters away. PULLING NOW!! [Shouting]. Okay, there was no explosion. We didn't actually get the mine out. But what I would do now would be go back, look at the area. You would have to wait at least twenty minutes before you even go back because sometimes they would put time delay booby traps on. Then I would go back and now I would have to decide if I'm going to pull it out and defuse it, or blow it up. With this type of mine I would blow it up. And then you would have to take the mine, it's just exploded, you will come back, you will check the area again and re-probe it, because sometimes they put three to four mines on top of each other. Sometimes they will put a wooden stake one meter long down into the ground and put a huge air bomb underneath. So there's all little tricks, they use. And approximately 90 percent of the mine clearance is done this way today. We are working on the use of dogs and mechanical clearance, but at the moment this is the main method.

When I was in the military I was a reconnaissance sergeant, a weapons instructor. My job was training people to use these weapons and other weapons. And I decided to leave the Army after 15 years and I moved to Norway. And then I decided to work with Norwegian Peoples Aid. And I'm very fortunate that I can use some of my experience from the Army to do some good.

DAVIDSON: Michael Hands was part of a group traveling across the United States late last year to drum up support for an international treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines. The treaty was signed by 122 countries in Ottawa, Canada on December 10th. All the NATO allies except the United States and Turkey signed the treaty. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines is now working for ratification of the treaty. Several other international aid workers joined Michael Hands in this interview about their work in these heavily-mined countries. One is Peter Quand, also from Norwegian Peoples Aid. He's worked on landmine issues in Angola. As we said earlier, there are a hundred million landmines in the world right now, and they kill or maim 500 people every week. Given that the United Nations estimates it would take a thousand years to clear all the landmines at the current pace, I asked these people how they decide which areas to de-mine.

HANDS: Finding the mines is not a problem. Like in Bosnia, you can throw your hat out of the window and you'll find a minefield. That's not a problem. The priority normally goes to where the refugees are going. So if there's a re-housing project we will concentrate on that; projects like making clear areas for children to play in. It is not possible to clear all of the mines. We just have to clear safe areas, at the moment.

PETER QUAND: You have to do priorities when you're de-mining because the areas are enormous and the de-mining goes very, very slow. Then it depends which phase of peace or war situation you are coming into. The first and important thing is the emergency period, when you have a peace agreement and it's very important to start making, making symbolic things that can make the peace settle. Like opening the tram road in Sarajevo. And also the work on the mass graves in Bosnia which was not a priority for people to live, but for the peace to last. Then you are coming in to the humanitarian situation, where infrastructure is the most important thing. Opening roads so that food supplies can go in and out; opening wells; rebuilding bridges, where you always find mines; and then as this third phase, the situation hopefully has calmed a little bit, then you start on the big areas of schools and of agricultural land or settlement areas.

DAVIDSON: Here in the relative safety of the United States we might question why anyone would venture into a known minefield. Michael Hands responds that many have no choice.

HANDS: Especially for things like collecting food, firewood. I mean, on several occasions I've seen locals in the minefields. And they know they're minefields. The only choice they've got is either to go into the dangerous areas, to find housing in the dangerous areas, or to starve or to freeze to death. I know that's certainly the case in Chechnya. And I was on the reconnaissance last year with some U.S. troops. We were in the no-man's land just outside Sarajevo, probably one of the most heavily mined areas. And there was a man that stood in the middle of the minefield. And we asked him from the road "What are you doing?" And he just said "I need to eat." And he was actually moving the mines with his shovel. Now that man was not stupid, he just had no alternative. And that is the reality for many people in the world today.

DAVIDSON: Landmines have been used in nearly every conflict since the First World War. Their purpose has not always been to kill, says Michael Hands. He's joined here by another guest who has worked in Cambodia. Her name is Dalma Foldes from the Swedish aid organization, Forumsted.

HANDS: Well, from the military point of view, landmines are used to deny the ground to the enemy, to force the enemy into areas where they can be killed, known as killing zones; to reduce mobility; to cause confusion and lower morale. Most of the mines are designed to injure rather than kill, so they will blow a foot off or a leg off. This is so it will take 2-3 soldiers to look after the injured soldier and it will create more pressure on the enemy's medical resources.

DALMA FOLDES: As you know, the mine is actually the best soldier, they say, the military say because they don't need to eat, they don't need to sleep, and it's working 24 hours. So they have this, the cheapest soldier around the world.

QUAND: Maybe also we should say that landmines is a very typical weapon of this century. A hundred years ago only ten percent of the people killed in a war was civilians. Then we got landmines. And it's now ten percent of the people killed in a war are military—ninety percent are civilians. And that's also the history of landmines.

DAVIDSON: We'll pause here for a short break. You're listening to Common Ground, a service of the Stanley Foundation. My guests are members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. They are Peter Quand and Michael Hands from Norwegian Peoples Aid, and Dalma Foldes from Forumsted, a Swedish aid organization. All have actively worked with landmines and their victims in war-ravaged countries like Cambodia, Angola and Bosnia-Herzogovina. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines achieved a victory in December, when 122 countries signed a treaty to ban anti-personnel mines. Now the Campaign is working for ratification of the treaty.

The Stanley Foundation is 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 of this Common Ground program, and at the end of the broadcast, I'll give you details on how you can order.

DAVIDSON: All of my guests today are actively working in countries that have been heavily sown with landmines. I asked Michael Hands from Norwegian Peoples Aid what it's like for people to go on living in fear of live landmines even after a war is over.

HANDS: One of the main reactions I had after coming back from Bosnia was arriving in Oslo, in Norway, and stopping at the grass. And I had to physically stop and think and tell myself I can walk on the grass. Because I hadn't done that for nearly four months. Or if I did, I was walking in the footsteps of somebody else. And that was one of the main effects that I noticed. It's also, after a while of living in these areas you start to forget about the danger because you can't see it. You don't, you know it's there, but it's silent and you start to take it for granted. And that's one of the problems we had in Bosnia. Is people just take it the areas are safe until someone gets blown up. And the majority of the minefields are found by people getting blown up.

DAVIDSON: I also asked Michael Hands and Dalma Foldes whether you see people injured by landmines wherever you go in these countries.

HANDS: The very first thing I saw when I drove into Tusla was I went across the road to get, buy some water. And there were six young men sitting there and every single one of them had lost their leg. Just sitting there at a bar. It was a very common sight.

FOLDES: But it's quite different between different countries, because I saw many, many mine victims and disabled people in Bosnia-Herzogovina and Mozambique, but I saw very, very few in Cambodia, especially in the countryside, because you have a, these people in Cambodia, we have a Amitahba Buddha, and the Amitahba Buddha says, if you [are] injured by something you [have] done something wrong in your former life. So people who [are] injured, the society there stigmatizes the people. You've done something wrong and it's the case why you were injured. And the family, they put these people in the house and they don't take out them. I recognized in Cambodia the gender point of view with the landmines problem, because when the men step on the landmines, the women take care of the family, they take care of the children, and go to the field and work in the rural area. But what's happening when the women step on the landmine? Most of the men—I make a study, it's 95 percent—the men left the women alone with the children and the burden, they need to go to the field and work with the field, need to take care of the children, but alone. Not with a man.

DAVIDSON: The burden of taking landmines out of the ground is left mostly to humanitarian organizations, not the militaries that planted them. Because these organizations, like Norwegian Peoples Aid, have limited resources and can't possibly remove all off the left-over landmines, they have to set priorities.

QUAND: We are working for Norwegian Peoples Aid, which is one of the humanitarian organizations working on de-mining. And our purpose is to go into the country and train de-miners, but also build up an organizational structure that will last. And the simple thing is to train the de-miners. De-mining itself is not very difficult. But to make sure that all procedures of safety are followed and that this will be a lasting project [is difficult].

JILL GREENBERG: I'd like to add something as well on another side of what happens after a conflict and you're trying to deal with getting the mines out and getting people back on track and making them more sustainable, self-sustainable.

DAVIDSON: Jill Greenberg is another member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. She works for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.

GREENBERG: And we do prosthetics and orthotics projects in Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador and Angola. And what we do, is we train local people on the ground to do all of these things: to make the legs, to fit the legs, to do all of these things, because we are trying to let them stand on their own, to let them develop their own thing where eventually, you know, we're not going to stay there forever. And we'll be able to pull out and there will be this whole structure that's been set up over time that gives people jobs, allows them to have careers, allows them to have something that's positive for the community and can help enrich them. And not only do something good, but pay people and give them careers when they don't, when they have lost so much opportunity because of the past.

FOLDES: The aid organization or the aid-giving countries, they must not push, but force the government to really take care of this issue, and [make sure] they are using their own budget the right way. For example, in Cambodia when you have so high military budget and so low a level going to the de-mining, and the social welfare and the education system, in Cambodia we have 50 percent of total budget go to the military budget, but just 2 percent goes to the health budget, you can see the huge gap between. And just 1 percent to the education. So in Sweden, you see the Swedish development agency, now they try to prioritize the landmine issues and try to force government: You must reduce your military budget and put this money in the health and education sector, for using the money for mine awareness education, how the mines look like, how they can live together with this fear. In Cambodia, for example, children during the school-day, they have half an hour every day learning what you can do and what you cannot do.

HANDS: You would expect that people who have gone through a conflict would know everything about mines. And a lot of the military people think they do. And it's quite surprising how little people really know about the mines. I've seen it so many times in Bosnia. We actually worked on training Bosnian refugees in Norway, and then we took them back to Bosnia and started training at schools. And we have to teach people about how to live with the danger. It's, many of them just do not appreciate it as a danger, because if you've just lived through a two-year conflict where you've lost fifty percent of your family, relatives, you don't look on mines as a danger. We were working on the tram line in Sarajevo and as soon as we finished work at the end of the day the locals would use our danger area as a footpath. They would laugh at us for wearing flak jackets and helmets. They thought, this is an area where they considered it to be completely safe because they walked up and down it all day, every day. And we found seven unexploded bombs. Now if that area had been in London or Norway or the USA, they would have closed the area for ten blocks. And it's just a completely different attitude towards the danger. And that's what we try and teach people; to change their attitude to live with the danger.

DAVIDSON: The treaty to ban landmines, signed in Ottawa last December, was the result of an ad hoc coalition of a thousand non-governmental organizations in 60 countries. Peter Quand is pleased with the success of the campaign so far.

QUAND: The unique thing about the process is that 1½ year ago it was impossible through the normal channels to negotiate a ban on landmines. And then within one year it has been possible. The countries who wanted a ban have come together and left those who doesn't want outside, not so that they don't interfere with the process. And we felt in Oslo that for the first time, especially the African countries were unified and they were saying that "We have the problem of landmines. We want the ban on this, whether the USA is supporting us or not, whether China is supporting us or not, or Pakistan or Libya or Iraq, that's not the important thing now. We need this ban and the rest of the world should join us on that."

DAVIDSON: The Campaign to Ban Landmines still has more work to do, as Jill Greenberg explains.

GREENBERG: We have a lot of work left to do. We, after the treaty was, the nuts and bolts were screwed in so to speak, the campaign sat down and wrote a plan. It's called "Entry Into Force Before the Year 2000." Because what happens is, once this treaty is signed, we've got to get forty countries to ratify it before it goes into effect. And we need to use this network that we've built over the six years that we've been a campaign, to get this treaty ratified by forty countries. And that's what we'll be doing. We'll be mobilizing our campaigns in countries where we feel that the legislative process will be most beneficial to speed it through. We will try to get countries that have not been engaged up until this point on to this treaty. That's another thing that we'll be doing. We have a lot of work ahead of us. This campaign is nowhere near over. This campaign won't be over until every landmine is out of the ground.

FOLDES: This campaign it's not just the ratification, but the campaign has the goal to increase the support to de-mining, the effective de-mining process. Plus victim assistance. It's very, very important. Because, as you know, we have more than 100 million landmines in the ground. And if you don't put a new one in and just using as today's technologies, [it will] take 1,100 years to de-mine them. And certainly all the mines have a social and economic effect for the people. So we, it's a lot of work to do. And we die, all of us who are sitting here, before all landmines became eliminated.

GREENBERG: In the United States I know that, I believe that President Clinton last year asked for $20 million for de-mining. And this year I heard that he was asking for $25 million. I know that there's been a lot of stirring going on here in the U.S. over the de-mining issue with the United Nations and the appointment of Karl Inderfurth, who used to work with Secretary of State Albright. He's been appointed with the U.N. as a de-mining czar. And we'll see what happens. It's very encouraging, but I, if the United States—and a lot of these other rogue nations like China, Pakistan, India, Cuba—if they don't get a ban and we continue to see production, throwing money at the, at de-mining is not a solution. If we keep on putting these mines into the ground it's very difficult to see any progress when we continue laying them.


Every 15 minutes somewhere
In a burned-out village somewhere
They'll be a flash against the sky
Another homeless farmer somewhere
Stumbles on a mine
And for everyone survivor, two will die.

Pastures of plenty now are sown with destruction
Growing only uncertainty and fear
Lethal reminders of a never-ending war
Taking lifetimes of misery to clear.

For the mines have been planted like bad seed in the ground
Deadly silent sentinels that wait without a sound.
The legacy of conflict indiscriminate and wild
And they know no distinction be it soldier, be it child.
So scream your disapproval with every angry breath
And fight to put an end to all these gardens of death.

DAVIDSON: Our thanks to songwriter Bernard Carney, and to our guests, Jill Greenberg of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation; Michael Hands and Peter Quand of Norwegian Peoples Aid and Dawn Foldes of Forumsted, a Swedish aid organization. All are members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. For Common Ground I'm Mary Gray Davidson. Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free and the cassettes cost $5.00 apiece. To order a tape or a transcript, 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. 9802. To order by credit card you can call us at 319-264-1500. Our e-mail address is Or visit our Web site at

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.


Copyright © 1998, The Stanley Foundation