US to Help Caucasus in Demining Effort

WASHINGTON (Reuters)–US special forces troops are headed to Russia’s southwest flank to train local forces to remove potentially deadly mines in Georgia–Armenia and Azerbaijan–the State Department said on Friday.

The contingent is due to start work on Sept. 14. The United States is the only other country in the Americas apart from Cuba not to have signed a landmark 1997 anti-mine convention. Instead–Washington says it gives the most aid toward efforts to deal with the consequences of land mines.

“The US troops will set up a training center at a Georgian military base near Tbilisi and provide humanitarian demining training as well as the related skills of emergency medical treatment and communications,” a State Department spokesman’said.

The international convention bans the use–stockpiling–production and transfer of anti-personnel mines. The United States–while pledging support for the treaty–has refused to sign because it says it still needs the weapons along the border between North and South Korea.

President Bill Clinton has pledged the United States will stop using land mines outside of the Korean peninsula by 2003 and in Korea by 2006. It has not produced antipersonnel mines since 1996 and has banned their export since 1992.

This week–the International Campaign to Ban Land mines issued its second annual report–suggesting the convention had helped reduce the number of victims of mines worldwide.

The effort in the Caucasus brings together 70 US Green Berets and support troops with 20 deminers and auxiliary personnel from each of the three countries. Land mines were placed across the region during conflicts sparked by the break-up of the Soviet Union.

US humanitarian demining assistance to the three countries stands at $1 million and the new operation will cost another $3.2 million–the State Department said.

The International Campaign to Ban Land mines–which shared a Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts–found that 88 countries were affected by land mines or unexploded ordnance.

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