Australia to sign landmine treaty

Roncalli Central High
Port Saunders, Newfoundland

By Jeanette B. (Grade 12)

Recently, another step toward banning anti-personnel land mines was made. Australia has agreed to sign the historic Ottawa Treaty according to their Prime Minister, John Howard. Australia at first expressed some doubts about the treaty, but Prime Minister Howard displayed their support in a meeting with Prime Minister Jean Chretien on October 23rd, in London. The Australian government had been under extreme worldwide and domestic pressure after failing to back the treaty when Canada first introduced it at a conference in Brussels in late June.

International pressure to sign the treaty has increased since the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines and its organizer, Ms. Jody Williams, won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Australian government relented to the pressure it was under in August. They suggested that backing the treaty to ban the producing, accumulating, use and transport of anti-personnel land mines was appropriate. However, the government's support remained halfhearted until Prime Minister John Howard's meeting with Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

In the meeting, Australia's Prime Minister, told Prime Minister Chretien that Australia was "very sympathetic" to the idea. He also said, "We would like to see those countries that produce land mines and are not yet in the tent, change their position or be persuaded to change their position." Australia's Prime Minister told journalists that while the matter had to win final approval from the cabinet, Australia would back it. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer described the treaty as slightly "feel good" politics because countries that mostly used and made land mines were unlikely to agree with it.

The meeting between the two Prime Ministers followed Japan's announcement on October 21st that it would sign the agreement. Japan stated that it wanted to avoid a falling out with the United States on the issue. The United States still resists the treaty, stating that it has the responsibility of protecting its troops overseas. China and Russia have also criticized the treaty, but Russia has recently changed its position and has agreed to sign.

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