Leahy Urges U.S. To Sign Landmine Treaty

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy is stepping up his efforts to persuade President Obama to sign an international treaty to ban the production and use of landmines.

Leahy says the treaty is needed to help re-establish this country’s moral standing throughout the world.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) In the past 10 years, 158 countries have signed an international treaty banning the production, use or stockpiling of landmines but the United States isn’t one of them.

Three presidents – Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama – have refused to support the treaty on the grounds that banning the use of landmines will hurt national security.

The United States hasn’t used landmines since the 1991 Gulf War and all production was stopped in 1997 but over ten million landmines remain in military storage.

Last fall, the Obama Administration rejected Leahy’s arguments to change its policy.  Leahy has now gathered 68 senators to support the ban and the group is urging the President to rethink his position:

(Leahy) "Now, we have a President – and I should say also our top military people – who are realizing that when our military goes into the field we also have a responsibility to protect civilians. And these landmines are – 99% of the time – they don’t hurt our military, they hurt civilians. And that has changed the whole complexion of things."

(Kinzel) The United States is one of just a few countries that haven’t signed the treaty. The others are Russia, China, Pakistan, India and Israel.  Leahy thinks pressure will build on these countries if the United States supports the ban:

(Leahy) "If we want the moral leadership to people to make sure that the few remaining countries that might be producing or exporting them will stop doing it, we can’t say ‘do this’, but we the United States, the most powerful nation on earth, is unwilling to sign this treaty."

(Kinzel) Leahy says he’s optimistic that the President will sign the treaty in the coming months:

(Leahy) "History every so often steps out ahead of any Administration and says here’s the right thing to do. I think that’s what history has done now."

(Kinzel) Joining Leahy in this effort is Bobby Mueller. He’s the director of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and a co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize with Vermonter Jody Williams. He thinks there are at least 100 million landmines still in the ground in south East Asia:

(Mueller) "In Cambodia, we found in one year that the leading cause of landmine casualties was when women would go into the forest to gather firewood – even with the knowledge that there were landmines. But they did it because of the economic imperative to gather the firewood and sell it for fifty cents or so in the marketplace."

(Kinzel) According to a new report, roughly 5000 people are killed or seriously injured by landmines every year.  Mueller says that’s a key reason to ban their future use.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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