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As the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty became binding international law today, Human Rights Watch praised the remarkable progress in eliminating antipersonnel landmines around the world.

But it also questioned the sincerity of the United States in reaching its stated goal of signing the ban treaty by 2006.

"The goal of 2006 is already unconscionably distant," said Stephen Goose, Program Director for the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. "But how can we believe the Pentagon is serious about that goal, if it's seeking nearly $50 million from Congress this year for a new mine system that will be banned by the treaty?"

The new system, called RADAM, will package together existing antipersonnel and antitank mines and will cost in excess of $200 million. If the U.S. is signs the treaty, it will be unable to use RADAM after 2006, and will then have to spend money to destroy it. Last May the U.S. said it would sign the treaty by 2006, but only if the Pentagon's search for alternatives to mines was successful.

"RADAM is the latest of a growing number of indicators that the Pentagon is not serious about the 2006 deadline, and that it is very unlikely to be met," said Mr. Goose.

The world is moving rapidly toward a ban without the United States: 134 nations have signed the ban treaty (including all of NATO, except the U.S. and Turkey), and sixty-five nations have ratified. Ukraine, a nation with a stockpile of 10 million antipersonnel landmines -- nearly as many mines as in the U.S. stockpile -- signed the treaty last week.

The landmines treaty has become binding international law more quickly than any major treaty in history. Global production is down significantly, global exports have been reduced to a trickle, more than 10 million antipersonnel mines have already been destroyed from stockpiles, and new use appears to be on the wane. There are still serious disappointments: the government of Angola -- a treaty signatory -- is once again laying mines, and very few nations from the Middle East and former Soviet Republics are willing to sign now.

"President Clinton needs to consider his legacy on the ban on antipersonnel landmines," said Mary Wareham, senior advocate for the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. "The U.S. has used some encouraging rhetoric, and it has spent a good deal of effort on clearing existing mines. But the U.S. will continue to be a disappointment until it signs the treaty and fully embraces the ban. The Clinton Administration should do that this year."

Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and serves as co-chair of the government task force of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines. Human Rights Watch is also coordinator of the Landmine Monitor initiative, a global network that reports on implementation of the treaty and on the humanitarian response to the global landmine crisis.

The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty (also known as Ottawa Convention) comprehensively bans all antipersonnel mines, requires destruction of stockpiled mines within four years, requires destruction of mines already in the ground within ten years and urges extensive programs to assist the victims of landmines.

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