US shuns land mine treaty
By DAVID L. MARCUS c.1997 The Boston Globe, WASHINGTON

More than 100 countries agreed Wednesday to sign a treaty that, for the first time, bans the use of antipersonnel land mines around the world. The United States was not among them.

President Clinton, a longtime supporter of the concept of such a ban, said his administration would refuse to join the treaty because it would put US forces in danger -- especially in South Korea, where 37,000 US troops are stationed.

"No one should expect our people to expose our armed forces to unacceptable risks," the president said, adding that he will tell the Pentagon to increase its spending on mine elimination projects by 25 percent next year. He also directed the Pentagon to look for alternatives to mines.

The Pentagon says that land mines can save lives by preserving a buffer between South and North Korea.

Ignoring US objections, delegates agreed to a draft of the treaty in Oslo. They are expected to accept the draft formally today and to sign a treaty in December.

US participation in the ban is considered so important that some experts said Clinton's decision makes the treaty virtually worthless. Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel also did not sign the treaty.

"We are heartbroken that the US will not be signing the treaty," said Caleb Rossiter, a director of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines, a coalition of dozens of humanitarian groups and and veterans' associations. Opponents of mines had thought that the death of Princess Diana, who had supported a ban on land mines, would encourage countries to sign the treaty.

"All the publicity, frankly, should have provided Clinton some cover," Rossiter said. The Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights called Clinton's decision an "embarrassment."

Clinton had sent a negotiator to Oslo in the final hours of negotiations to ask for several exemptions to the treaty. For example, the United States wanted an extra nine years to keep using mines to protect South Korea from an invasion by North Korea.

Jacob Selebi, president of the Oslo treaty conference, urged that delegates vote on the treaty without including any exceptions proposed by the United States. "I think in a few years' time they will find their way to be a part of this treaty," he said of the United States.

Campaigners against land mines cheered wildly when Selebi said the draft would be approved despite the US objections.

Others said that the State Department and the Pentagon had disagreed for a long time on how to deal with the treaty, with the Pentagon demanding several large exemptions.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and General John Shalikashvili, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Clinton for the announcement.

When she was the US ambassador to the UN, Albright told of seeing victims of mines while traveling in Somalia, Cambodia, El Salvador and other countries. In an essay for the Christian Science Monitor in 1993, she called mines "the coward's weapon of choice."

Clinton has spoken out about the dangers of millions of antipersonnel mines sprinkled in former war zones around the world, but he has stopped short of calling for a complete ban.

As the situation in North Korea deteriorates, commanders are especially worried about protecting the no-man's land dividing the peninsula.

"There is no place else like Korea on earth," a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday. "Korea is the only place where a UN-mandated force faces a million opponents and you can see them. And they've been preparing for war for 50 years."

A Pentagon computer simulation has indicated that US and South Korean forces could suffer thousands of casualties if land mines are not used. But a nonprofit group in Washington, Demilitarization for Democracy, issued a report last month saying the mines are not needed.

Lieutenant General James F. Hollingsworth, who commanded US and South Korea's joint forces during the 1970s, joined authors of the report in criticizing mines. "To be blunt, if we are relying on these weapons to defend the Korean Peninsula, we are in big trouble," he wrote.

Before his announcement this morning, Clinton called in Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont to tell him of the decision. Leahy has spent a decade trying to stop the use of mines.

Leahy, who visited the delegates in Oslo last week, said he told the president, "We have lost a leadership role" in the anti-mine campaign.

(Wire service material was used to prepare this report.)

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