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June 24, 2017

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US signals move to phase out landmines

WASHINGTON--The United States signaled Friday its intent to eliminate its stockpile of anti-personnel landmines (APLs) and eventually join a global treaty banning them, boosting efforts to rid the world of the weapons.

The high-profile announcement was made at a conference in Mozambique's capital Maputo aimed at ultimately ensuring no armed forces use anti-personnel mines by 2025.

The number of people killed or maimed by APLs fell in 2012, according to the global watchdog Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, but still reached 4,000. In many cases, the mines are leftovers from wars that ended decades earlier.

"The United States took the step of declaring it will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel landmines in the future, including to replace existing stockpiles as they expire," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.

In 2009, Washington said it was reviewing its position on landmines but — along with rivals China and Russia — has failed to sign the Ottawa Convention that bans the use of APLs and envisions their eventual elimination.

Nuclear powers India and Pakistan have also not signed up, nor has arch-foe Iran.

Long-standing critics of the U.S. policy say Washington's rivals are waiting on the United States to move before they do likewise.

The White House gave no timeline as to when it might eventually sign the treaty, but Hayden said the U.S. delegation in Maputo "made clear that we are diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention."

"We are conducting a high fidelity modeling and simulation effort to ascertain how to mitigate the risks associated with the loss of APL," she said.

"Other aspects of our landmine policy remain under consideration."

'Out of the shadows'

The United States has provided more than US$2.3 billion in aid since 1993 in more than 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction programs, Hayden noted.

Since Mozambique hosted its first landmine conference in 1999, the number of state parties to the mine ban convention has more than tripled from 45 to 161, although key major powers remain on the sidelines.

The U.S. stockpile is believed to consist of about nine million self-destruct anti-personnel mines, Human Rights Watch said, cautiously welcoming Washington's announcement.

"The U.S. has finally come out of the shadows in indicating it intends to join the landmine treaty, and let's hope it will move ahead rapidly to come on board," said HRW arms director Steve Goose.

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