Media Center



May 20, 1998 - U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC

I am pleased to join you to discuss an issue that is very near to our hearts. I know there is no need to describe to this group the scourge that are landmines. Instead, I would like to focus my remarks on the current activities of the OAS and the opportunities such a multilateral organization can offer in the future.

The OAS has been involved in mine action efforts since 1991, when the countries of Central America sought the help of our organization to locate and destroy the mines that had been buried during the preceding years of fratricidal conflict. Since that time, we have run a lean demining program that has -- we are proud to say -- galvanized the efforts of many countries and achieved real results.

The Inter-American Defense Board is our lead agency responsible for all technical aspects of the demining operation, for deploying international experts from our member states, and for training and supervising local sapper platoons. In addition to material resources, the affected countries field the sappers who risk their lives carrying out the actual work of clearing the mines. Any one of our various operational sites offer a vivid snapshot of multilateral work at its best: soldiers and civilian experts of many different nationalities working in concert --- and speaking our languages with many different accents -- to reclaim the soil of one member state.

The OAS itself, working through its Unit for the Promotion of Democracy provides general coordination services and administers the donated resources. To give you a sense of how far we have gone to find funding for our program, I would like to make special mention here of the countries that provide assistance. I should begin by singling out the United States, without whose help these programs would have been diminished. I sincerely hope that we will be able to continue to count on your generous support.

Of our other member states, I would like to mention Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. They have contributed both military experts and equipment. Finally, the financial support that has made these projects possible comes from France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and Denmark.

I cannot let the moment pass without praising the well-known efforts of another OAS member state, Canada, which, perhaps more than any other nation, has pushed into world consciousness -- through the "Ottawa Process" -- the cost that this weapon exacts on us all. 33 of our member states have signed the Ottawa Convention and, of the 11 countries that have so far ratified, 3 are OAS member states.

As you all know, the OAS is a political body. And, the other dimension of our land mine work is at the policy level, where the OAS has been marshalling the political will to face this issue head on. For example, the countries of Central America, under the aegis of the OAS, have set the year 2000 as the target for becoming a land mine free zone. More recently, the entire OAS has now adopted this same goal as well, which will be reaffirmed in a few weeks during our upcoming annual General Assembly.

It is also worth noting that the 1996 OAS General Assembly went farther than any other multilateral body when it adopted the goal of ridding the Western Hemisphere of anti-personnel land mines, and converting it into a Mine-Free Zone. At that time, the General Assembly also called upon member states to declare and implement moratoria on the production, use, and transfer of all antipersonnel land mines in the Western Hemisphere.

As a confidence- and security-building measure, it further requested our Permanent Council to implement a complete and integrated register of antipersonnel land mines in the member states, including plans for clearance of the remaining land mines. That register has been active since then.

Let me share with you a few lessons learned through our work on mine clearing programs:

First, we approach mine-clearing work as a profoundly humanitarian task which goes well beyond the purely military realm, since these mines, even beyond the threat they hold for our people, hold back economic development and hinder efforts to build needed infrastructure.

Second, our experience suggests that whenever the key national actors devoted to social and economic development work together with military authorities and international agencies, the projects yield better, faster and more complete results.

Third, our experience shows that projects of this kind are an effective means for fostering closer cooperative links among the armed forces of our hemisphere. Bringing them together in such a mine-clearing effort serves as an invaluable confidence-building measure.

Fourth, in countries where mine-clearing programs are underway, there has been a convergence of interests on behalf of peace. When soldiers and civilians work shoulder-to-shoulder in national and regional efforts of this kind, it promotes such convergence. In many cases, we find groups who were once sworn enemies now working towards the same objective.
Our work, of course, is far from complete. The results we have achieved drive us to do more.

Since as I mentioned we are only weeks away from our General Assembly, I should point out that the OAS member states intend to recognize -- at the policy level -- that much work remains to be done after the actual demining effort is completed. The door will be opened for the other member states so request it to seek assistance from our mine action program. The new horizon for our Central American states will move to mine awareness issues; assistance to and social re-habilitation of victims; and the socio-economic recuperation of demined lands that have experienced years of impoverishment because of the presence of mines. These would be new areas of operation for the OAS, but ones that we are ready and willing to tackle --- hopefully with your help.

Good luck in your work, and I wish you all a successful conference.

Thank you