6 April 2006

World Free of Landmines Possible, If every Imagination Applied to Cause of Mine Clearance, Says Secretary-General at New York Fund-Raising Dinner

NEW YORK, 5 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following are Secretary-General Kofi Annan's remarks at Adopt-a-Minefield's "Night of a Thousand Dinners", in New York, 4 April:

Before I say anything, let me say how impressed I've been with the chefs, who spoke to us this evening, for two reasons:  first, for what they prepared for us to eat; and the brevity of their speeches.  If I could keep them here, to train the diplomats and ambassadors to be as brief in the General Assembly and the Security Council, then all of us would become much more efficient.

It is a pleasure to be here tonight.  I am grateful for your recognition of the United Nations' work to eliminate landmines, and delighted that you chose to honour us at the culminating event of this year's Night of a Thousand Dinners.

Landmines are cruel instruments of war.  Decades after conflicts have receded, these invisible killers lie silently in the ground, waiting to murder and maim.  Through them, twentieth century battles claim twenty-first century victims, with new casualties added every hour.

A single landmine -- or even the fear of its presence -- can hold an entire community hostage.  It can prevent farmers from growing crops, refugees from returning home, even children from playing. It blocks the delivery of humanitarian relief and impedes the deployment of peacekeepers.  In post-conflict societies landmines remain one of the greatest impediments to rebuilding and renewal.

Yet this scourge of the past century has the potential to become an early success story of the present one.  The swift entry into force of the 1997 convention banning anti-personnel landmines underscored the broad moral condemnation of these weapons. The treaty, which has 150 State Parties, is already producing tangible results.  Governments, donors, non-governmental organizations and the United Nations are collaborating on an unprecedented scale to address this problem, in more than 30 countries.  Both the production and the laying of mines are in decline.  Global trade in mines has virtually halted.  Stockpiles have been destroyed.  Clearance operations have accelerated. Mine-risk education has spread.

In fact, I will tell you my own encounter with a mine.  I had gone to visit the UN's peacekeeping operations in the south of Lebanon.  The Force Commander was a Swedish general, Lars Eric Wahlgren.  He took me to the field to show me some of the mines.  We had looked at some in his office.  And he pointed one out to me as we approached a stop.  I stopped and he said, "Don't go any further."  And he proceeded to explain to me how that was one of the most dangerous mines because it was activated by movement and the weight of the person near it.  So I said, "What do you do when you come upon one of these things?"  He said, "Well, you have to make up your mind, because if you move briskly, it jumps up and you're dead.  So you have to decide which leg to lose -- left or right.  And then you place your leg on it.  And you'll be okay.  You may lose a leg; then we'll take care of you."  And when I asked him, I said, "You soldiers know what you're doing.  How about the civilians?  How about the women?  How about the children?"  That is a problem we face with these abominable weapons.

The message is loud and must be heard:  landmines have no place in any civilized society.

The goal of a world without landmines appears achievable in years -- not decades as we used to think. But to realize this ideal, every one of us -- donors, the general public and mine-affected countries -- must focus our energies, and our imaginations, on the cause of mine clearance.  Having been so effective in laying mines, we must now become even better at clearing them.  Each mine cleared may mean a life saved.  Each mine cleared brings us one step closer to building the conditions for lasting and productive peace.

Initiatives such as the Night of a Thousand Dinners are crucial in raising funds for this cause.  These dinners also reinforce the breadth and depth of global involvement, by ordinary citizens and grass-roots organizations, in the campaign against landmines.

The money raised today will go towards mine clearance in some of the most heavily mined places in the world.  They include Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia and Mozambique.  Having seen first-hand the terrible toll inflicted by landmines on these societies, I can tell you that there could be no better use of resources than for demining and survivor assistance in these countries.

But I'm sure you already know this, and that's why you're here today.  So let me simply thank you for your support, and wish you a good evening.  I think we've all had a good meal.  I don't know what is coming next.  It's been a wonderful evening, and thank you, chefs.

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