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Companies scramble to profit from global push to ban land mines

December 4, 1997

OTTAWA (AP) _ Hoping to profit from the campaign against land mines, companies are hawking an array of high-tech and low-tech devices to delegates signing the historic mine-banning treaty.

There’s a $500,000 remote-control mine detector, a supersonic air shovel, even a Superman mine-awareness comic book.

As delegates from the last batch of 125 countries lined up to sign the treaty today, delegates were focusing their discussions on the next phase of the campaign _ removing the estimated 100 million anti-personnel mines scattered in about 60 countries around the world.

Hoping to help them, for a fee, are scores of companies, including many from the United States _ one of the main holdouts refusing to sign the treaty.

Karl Inderfurth, head of the U.S. observer team at the signing ceremony, brought with him glossy catalogues from the Pentagon displaying a variety of U.S.-developed de-mining technologies.

Items ranged from costly remote-control vehicles to inexpensive packets of foam that can be used to render mines inoperable. The brochure even features the Superman comic, authorized by D.C. Comics and already used in Bosnia to teach schoolchildren how to avoid land mines.

The Canadian government, which played a pivotal role in rallying support for the land-mine ban, also was active on the salesmanship front.

Industry Minister John Manley helped demonstrate Canadian de-mining technologies Wednesday at a hotel next to the conference venue.

There were detectors that use radiation to find buried explosives, ground-penetrating radars to pinpoint mines, scanners mounted on wheeled robots, and explosive hoses to blow lanes through mine fields.

Also on display were advanced forms of prosthetic devices for mine victims.

Much of the Canadian and U.S. equipment is still in the development stage. But with nations round the world pledging to contribute to a huge mine-clearing effort, companies sense the start of a growth industry.

Much of the new equipment is high-priced, which worries anti-landmine activists.

``There’s been a huge push by major technology development companies to sell technologies that are not relevant to the problem on the ground,″ said Valerie Warmington of Mines Action Canada.

John Leggat, research chief for Canada’s defense department, said no single device or system can detect all types of mines in all types of terrain.

``Where it’s possible to use simple solutions, I think we should and I think we will,″ he said.

The United States has said it could sign the mine-banning treaty only if exemptions were made to protect its troops in Korea and allow continued use of its anti-tank munitions.

But Inderfurth, in an interview, stressed that the United States was committing more money than any nation to de-mining efforts _ $80 million for this fiscal year.

He estimated that the world spends about $200 million a year on mine-clearance, and should be spending five times that to get the job done effectively.

Part of the U.S. program involves field-testing new technologies. Local de-mining experts in Bosnia, Namibia and elsewhere have worked with U.S. personnel in testing many new devices and techniques.

With existing technology, mine-clearing can be both costly and deadly. Red Cross documents distributed here say 83 mine-clearers were killed in Kuwait in an $800 million effort to remove several million land mines left over from the Gulf War.