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Veterans Reporter: Landmines, buried unexploded munitions at highest point in decade

The Department of Veterans Affairs clinic that recently opened here in Pahrump was a welcome addition to the town for veterans and their families who have been wounded or otherwise need medical care. I was at the ribbon cutting for the original clinic years ago, and that was greeted with open arms. But with the advent of the Middle East wars, it soon became overwhelmed with patients.

Hopefully, the new building will be usable for many years to come.

When it comes to individuals wounded in the military, I was disheartened to read a recent New York Times article about casualties from landmines and other unexploded munitions buried in the ground in war zones. They have risen to their highest point in a decade. That’s according to a monitoring group, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Several years ago I co-wrote a book about Princess Diana (“Flowers for Princess Diana”) in which I briefly described her work in attempting to pressure governments and combatants, in general, to cease manufacturing and using landmines. She had previously noted that many nations had signed a treaty to no longer use or manufacture such destructive weapons. But the United States, while agreeing in principle, was not a signatory. And the People’s Republic of China not only did not sign, but continues to manufacture the explosive devices. The Landmine Monitor report said that other extremely active producers are India, Myanmar, Pakistan and South Korea. There are currently 64 known nations and geographic areas that use mines, including the expanding war zones in Nigeria, Palau and Mozambique.

The campaign has produced a short video on its website urging President Obama to join in banning landmines. It includes scenes of groups and individuals holding up signs and voicing “Join Us.” The scenes are interspersed with other images of children and adults who have lost limbs because of unknowingly stepping on mines. Near the end of the production, it shows Obama shaking hands with President-elect Donald Trump with a dialogue balloon over Obama’s head asking Trump to move forward with a ban.

“The decade-high number of new casualties caused by landmines and unexploded ordnance, and the continued suffering of civilians, more than a third of whom were children, proves again that these indiscriminate weapons should never be used by anyone,” said Loren Persi Vicentic, one of the editors of the annual report, Landmine Monitor 2016.

The Times reports that the United States stated that it will observe the “key requirements” of the treaty with the exception of the Korean Peninsula, where the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South remains one of the most heavily mined areas in the world.

The Obama administration has said that the Defense Department is working on landmine alternatives in the Demilitarized Zone. Many hope that would help create conditions allowing the United States to join the landmine treaty formally.

The United States remains the world’s leading funder of humanitarian demining work around the world, providing about $154 million last year to 40 countries and more than $2.6 billion in at least 95 countries since 1993, according to the State Department’s latest annual report on American efforts to eradicate unexploded remnants of war. Those efforts include disarming and destroying old American bombs from the Vietnam War era that still pose deadly hazards in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a Purple Heart recipient. Every other Sunday he discusses veterans’ issues over several Lotus Broadcasting AM radio stations in Southern Nevada.

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