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(Yonhap Interview) Koreas could build trust by jointly removing mines: special envoy

All Headlines 15:46 April 14, 2011

By Sam Kim

SEOUL, April 14 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea could build mutual trust if they could cooperate in the removal of land mines crowding their border, the special envoy for a global mine ban treaty said Thursday, a suggestion that comes amid high military tension between the Koreas.

"The clearance of land mines is definitely a good confidence building measure," Jordanian Prince Mired Raad Zeid Al-Hussein said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul. "The political situation has to be right for that to happen, but in theory, it makes good sense."

Prince Mired, who made a visit to the Demilitarized Zone between the divided Koreas during his five-day trip here, is special ambassador for the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention that has drawn the membership of over 150 nations since taking effect in 1999.

South Korea, along with the United States, is not a signatory to the treaty also known as the Ottawa Convention, as the country remains divided with North Korea by a heavily fortified border after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

Expressing his understanding of the political circumstances on the peninsula, Prince Mired said South and North Korea could show each other their intentions for peace by removing mines rather than waiting for peace.

He cited efforts by late King Hussein bin Talal, who ordered campaigns to strip his country of land mines in the 1990s to show his neighbors that Jordan "really wanted to have real, warm peace."

"It wasn't just a tactic," Prince Mired said, also citing numerous mine-related civilian and military fatalities as a motive for the King Hussein-led campaign.

South Korea is not an exception to casualties from mines, some of which stray south of the Demilitarized Zone in rainy seasons. Citing defense ministry figures, Cho Jai-kook, an official at the South Korean division of the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines, said 1 million mines are buried on the South Korean side of the border while there are 600,000 in the north.

South and North Korea do have a brief history of jointly removing mines along their border. In 2002, the troops of the two countries cleared the area to reconnect a severed railway link amid a rising mood of detente.

The relations between the countries, however, deteriorated to the worst level in years after a conservative government took power in Seoul in 2008 and pushed the North to drop its nuclear weapons programs.

Tension between the countries further heightened after the North bombarded Yeonpyeong Island in November, killing four people. The South had already been holding the North culpable for the sinking of one of its warships that claimed 46 lives.

Hoping South Korea can continue and expand its support for the Ottawa Convention that also includes lending humanitarian help to victims of land mines, Prince Mired said he would be willing to visit Pyongyang if a chance arises for him to achieve progress there.

"It's not the right moment to do such a visit to North Korea, but maybe sometime in the future, if things change, there is a likelihood that North Korea would also join (the treaty), I don't see why not," he said. "Never say never. Things change in the future."

Prince Mired, who said he found his "entry point" into his cause while overseeing victims of land mines in his country, is making his second visit to the country since 2008. He is scheduled to leave South Korea on Saturday after meeting a series of government officials here. On Wednesday he met with a deputy defense minister in Seoul and drew a consensus on the "spirit of the convention," according to Kerry Brinkert, director of the implementation support unit for the treaty who is accompanying him.

He has also toured parts of the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas, a strip of land 4 kilometers wide and 248km long that runs across the Korean Peninsula.


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