INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ANTIPERSONNEL MINES GETS UNDERWAY IN TAJIKISTAN

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DUSHANBE, April 15 (RIA Novosti) - An international tow-day conference on antipersonnel mines in Central Asia has got underway in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe Wednesday. The forum has brought together officials from 22 countries, including Afghanistan, China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Austria, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, France, and the United States. Queen Noor of Jordan is attending as a United Nations good-will ambassador.

"We must identify challenges remaining in Central Asia and actions necessary for the Ottawa Convention to be able to deliver on its promise to stop suffering brought by antipersonnel mines, as well as urge non-member countries to join in," Tajik Vice Premier Saidamir Zukhurov said as he addressed the gathering Thursday.

According to Zukhurov, the forum's goal is to emphasize the danger of antipersonnel mines in Central Asia and to encourage Central Asian countries to join the Convention.

The Tajik government has adopted a five-year mine clearance plan, whose implementation will cost an estimated $13 million, Zukhurov reported. The UK, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Japan, the OSCE, and NATO have so far donated $2 million for the plan.

According to the Tajik Center for Mine Issues, some 2,500 square kilometers of farmlands and 700 kilometers of roads have not yet been cleared of mines in Tajikistan. In addition, Uzbekistan planted mines along the border with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in August 2000, so as to prevent drug smugglers and Islamic militants from crossing over.

Parviz Mavlonov, Director of the Center for Mine Issues, said that over the past decade, two hundred people had been killed and a hundred others wounded in mine explosions in Tajikistan, including on the Tajik-Uzbek border.

The Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Production, Stockpiling and Transfer of Antipersonnel Mines and on their Destruction was adopted in September 1997. As many as 141 countries have signed the Convention since then, including the Central Asian republics of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

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