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September 21, 1998

UCSC hosts landmine conference with American Red Cross

The American Red Cross is committed to a global ban on the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of all landmines, which maim or kill more than 2,000 people each month

By Jennifer McNulty

The images of maimed victims of landmines are heartbreaking, and the statistics are alarming: More than 2,000 people are killed or maimed by landmine explosions every month; an estimated 110 million active landmines are in place worldwide with a similar number stockpiled and ready to be planted; for every mine that is removed, 20 more are laid.

On Saturday, October 3, leaders of the international effort to ban landmines will gather at UCSC for a daylong conference. The public is invited to attend the event, "Banning Landmines--Everyone's Responsibility: Education, Reparation, Prevention," which will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Oakes College, Room 105. (Go to detailed schedule)

The conference is being presented by the Santa Cruz County Chapter of the American Red Cross. Among the speakers will be UCSC politics professor Isebill Gruhn, a landmine survivor, and leaders of international efforts to ban the devices. Entertainment will be provided by the Peace Child Ensemble and by Spontaneous Combustion, an improvisational theater group. General admission is $10, or $5 for students and seniors with identification; box lunches can be ordered in advance for $8. Tickets will be available at the door or in advance by calling the Santa Cruz County American Red Cross at (831) 462-2881.

Conference participant Ed Miles, associate director of Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, works with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, for which VVAF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.

"We opened our first prosthetics clinic in Cambodia in 1990, and that's when we realized the size of the problem," said Miles. "There were tens of thousands of amputees in Cambodia, and hundreds more were being created every month. It was overwhelming, and that's when we got the idea to try to ban landmines."

Princess Diana led a crusade to ban landmines, and her death drew renewed attention to the worldwide humanitarian, environmental, and economic crisis posed by the proliferation of landmines.

Antipersonnel landmines are explosive devices designed to maim or kill the people who trigger them. Landmine usage has soared during the past 20 years, when mines have been deployed as a cheap weapon of terror against civilians. Landmines are indiscriminate, often causing extensive injuries that lead to amputation and severe disability. They effectively deny access to farmlands, irrigation channels, roads, power plants, and waterways, and because buried landmines can remain active for over 50 years, they often continue to pose a threat long after hostilities have ended.

Landmines are scattered across more than 70 countries, although 80 to 90 percent are in the ground in 12 of the most heavily mined countries. Their cost--$3 to $30 apiece--is dwarfed by the cost of removal, which ranges from $150 to $1,500 apiece. In Egypt, one of the most heavily mined countries, according to the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs, 23 million landmines are in place; in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the number of landmines per square mile exceeds 150; in Cambodia, there are approximately 140 landmines per square mile. In Libya, about 27 percent of the total arable land is unusable because of minefields that date back to World War II.

Today, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is coordinated by a steering committee of 11 organizations, including VVAF. It brings together more than 1,000 nongovernmental organizations in over 60 countries which work locally, nationally, regionally, and internationally to ban antipersonnel landmines.

The American Red Cross is committed to a global ban on the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of all antipersonnel mines. The United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) has launched its "Adopt-a-Minefield" program to clear existing mines. Similar to the "sister cities" programs, sponsoring organizations adopt minefields that have been preselected by the United Nations, raise funds to clear specific areas, and help to "return the land back to the local population."

Current efforts focus on pressuring President Clinton to sign an international treaty banning landmines, supporting rehabilitation work in countries with extensive landmine damage, and completing comprehensive surveys to pinpoint the location of landmines, said Miles. "Metal detectors remain the surest tool for detection, and removal is still best done by hand," he noted.

In addition to the local chapter of the American Red Cross, sponsors of the conference include Soroptimist International of Santa Cruz, United Nations Association, the Resource Center for Nonviolence, the Santa Cruz Business Council, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Santa Cruz Seaside Company, Santa Cruz Area Chamber of Commerce, and UCSC.

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