US Plans to Relax Restrictions on Landmines

Yemeni woman whose legs were amputated after stepping on a landmine
Jamila Qassem Mahyoub, a Yemeni woman whose legs were amputated after stepping on a landmine while herding her sheep in 2017, holds a prosthetic leg in a house in Yemen's third city of Taez on March 20, 2019. (AHMAD AL-BASHA/AFP)

The U.S. government plans to relax restrictions on the Army's use of anti-personnel mines, reversing an Obama-era commitment that more than 160 countries have signed up to, and which aims to limit injuries to civilians, U.S. media reported Thursday.

According to CNN, President Donald Trump wants to reverse an order issued by his predecessor Barack Obama to bring the U.S. in line with the Ottawa Convention that bans the use, production, stockpiling or transfer of anti-personnel mines, although Obama exempted the use of landmines in the Korean peninsula's de-militarized zone.

Trump was expected to rescind the 2014 order and leave it up to the Pentagon to decide on its use of landmines, CNN said, quoting unnamed military officials.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper did not deny the reports.

"There will be a change coming out. I'm not going to comment on it until it is," he told reporters at a news conference.

The Pentagon is expected to only deploy anti-personnel mines if they are fitted with a feature that allow them to automatically self-destruct or deactivate after 30 days, CNN said.

It added that a 2017 review ordered by then defense secretary Jim Mattis found that the prohibition of all anti-personnel mines could put U.S. troops at increased risk.

The U.S. news site Vox quoted an internal State Department cable designed to allow U.S. diplomats to explain the decision.

"The United States will not sacrifice American service members' safety," Vox quoted the cable as saying, "particularly when technologically advanced safeguards are available that can allow landmines to be employed responsibly to ensure our military's warfighting advantage, while also limiting the risk of unintended harm to civilians."

The 164 states that signed the Ottawa Convention met last November in Oslo to reaffirm their commitment to limiting the use of landmines, which can cause horrific injuries to civilians, and pledged to phase them out by 2025.

Around 30 countries, including the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan have so far refused to sign the 1997 Ottawa treaty.

A report last year by the NGO Landmine Monitor said that 6,897 people were killed or injured by landmines in 2018, with a record 3,789 of those caused by improvised explosive devices. That figure was up from 3,998 victims in 2014.

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