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United Methodists focus on landmine removal

10/22/1999 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS) - With the help of a task force of military and engineering experts and humanitarian activists, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries is becoming directly involved in the removal of landmines around the world.

In actions taken during the Oct. 18-21 annual meeting, board directors decided to:

· Hire a Landmine Action Needs Director (LAND) to guide and implement the board's initiatives.
· Target the African country of Mozambique for its first demining effort, in consultation with experienced specialists currently working there.
· Analyze the cost effectiveness of promising state-of-the-art equipment that could be part of a humanitarian demining program.
· Consider investing in innovative technologies to make landmine removal faster and safer.

The new landmine director will bring a long-range sustainable plan to the board of directors, based on the approved recommendations.

As part of the landmine removal effort, the board also will recruit United Methodists with specialized skills and experience to assist; will restore any demined agricultural lands owned by the church to productive use; and will expand the current Landmine Victims Rehabilitation Program in Angola to other countries.

The human suffering caused by the millions of landmines still buried in the ground has been well documented. Currently, 69 countries are affected, according to the United Nations Mine Action Service. Of the 26,000 deaths or injuries that occur annually because of landmines, one third are to children.

"Possibly more devastating is the long-term damage which landmines do to rural communities by halting economic and social development," the board's Landmine Action Task Force report said. "Landmines prevent farmers from access to land, taking away their only real means of subsistence. Until removed, landmines leave resource-poor farmers with virtually no livelihoods and rural communities with diminished hope."

The Board of Global Ministries supports "The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Their Destruction," which was adopted by 135 countries last March and also is known as the Ottawa Treaty. The United States is among the nations that have not signed on to the treaty.

"The Ottawa Treaty has increased public perception of the real impact of landmines and the devastating impact that they have on the global human community," the board's task force noted. "Treaties take a long time to achieve their intended effects. However, it is clear that U.S. leadership will be essential to achieving a mine-free world."

One of the nine task force members is the Rev. Ronald Woodfin, a Baptist minister and systems engineer with a distinguished career at the Naval Weapons Center and Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.

Woodfin told the board directors he already had an interest in demining as a ministry for churches. "You're going in a direction that I'm convinced God is leading you all to consider," he said.

Other members of the task force are Brooke Conklin, a board director from Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; Harry "Hap" Hambric, a United Methodist and retired U.S. Army major who was senior project leader in the U.S. Defense Department's Humanitarian Demining Technology Development Program from 1994-98; and Jennifer Logan, grassroots action coordinator of the Campaign to Ban Landmines at Physicians for Human Rights.

Also, Joe Lokey, a United Methodist and retired U.S. Air Force major who serves as deputy director of the James Madison University's Mine Action Information Center; Jack Reeves, a board consultant on the landmines project who has worked in antipoverty and civil rights programs; the Rev. Duane Sarazin, a board director from Minneapolis, and Colonel Kasin Tanalinov, a national security advisor for the Republic of Kazakhstan.

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