U.S. Official Cites Significant Progress in Removing Land Mines

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – After considerable progress in removing land mines across the world, the greater problem today is with unexploded munitions, says a senior State Department official.

Richard Kidd, director of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, said April 4 during a webchat with an audience in Eastern Europe that the accomplishments in humanitarian land mine removal have been significant in reducing deaths and injuries.

"Everyone involved in mine action should be proud of the accomplishments to date, with casualties down to well under 10,000 per year and processes in place to focus resources where they will have the greatest impact," Kidd said. "Today, more people come to harm through tampering with unexploded ordnance than by land mines."

For example, he pointed out that in a recent accidental explosion of an ammunition dump in Maputo, Mozambique, more people were killed there than by land mines in the past three years.  Those mines are remnants of a bloody civil war during which thousands of land mines were emplaced in the southern African nation.  So, "It is right and appropriate to shift focus to where the problem is," he said.

Looking toward the future, Kidd said, "It will not be too long before major [land mine removal] programs start to scale down and response mechanisms are put in place to meet small-scale threats as they emerge."

Asked by a mine removal worker in Macedonia how he could secure funding to remove mines left over from past wars, Kidd suggested a range of options starting with submitting a request through the International Trust Fund for Humanitarian Demining (ITF), located in Slovenia.  "It is through the ITF that the U.S. contributes just under $10 million per year to work in South East Europe," he said.

Another option, he said, is to approach private foundations or groups associated with mine action and 50 of them could be found through on his office’s Web site at the State Department.

When he was asked if the United States was the world's largest distributor of land mines, Kidd responded:  "No, this is a common misperception." 

Quite to the contrary, Kidd said the United States was the first country in the world to prohibit the export of anti-personnel land mines in 1993. In terms of mines found in countries around the world, U.S.-manufactured land mines emplaced by U.S. troops are found today only in Southeast Asia - in Vietnam, placed there during the war more than 30 years ago.

He said that U.S. land mine policy is "to leave no mine behind of any type on any battlefield anywhere in the world."  To achieve that goal, he said "the U.S. is committed to using only mines that are command-controlled or that have multiple self-destruct fuses."

Kidd pointed out that in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Angola, Cambodia and elsewhere "the vast majority of mines removed … were manufactured in either the former Soviet Union or in China."

More information on the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement and the U.S. land mine removal program is available on the State Department Web site.

A transcript of the Kidd webchat and information on previous and upcoming webchats are available on USINFO’s Webchat Station .