Cheap, hidden and lethal, they lie in wait around the world to carry out their sole duties - killing and maiming.
A growing number of increasingly effective land mines kill 800 people each month and injure thousands more. The United Nations wants the carnage to stop."Humanity is losing the war against land mines," Swedish Foreign Ministry official Johan Molander said last week, the beginning of a two-week U.N. conference on proposed new in-ter-na-tion-al laws about land mines.
The proposals do not include an outright ban.
An estimated 100 million mines sit hidden in about 60 countries. Many explode years, sometimes decades, after a conflict ends.
Molander said 2 million new mines costing as little as $5 apiece are planted each year. Only 100,000 mines are cleared each year - at a cost of up to $1,000 each.
U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and most U.N. and private relief agencies have urged a total ban on producing, stockpiling and exporting land mines. They say the suffering outweighs any military benefit.
"The only effective solution to the global crisis of anti-personnel mines is their total prohibition and elimination," said the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Red Cross estimates that in Cambodia, one person in 235 has had a limb amputated, most of them from mine blasts. In Afghanistan, nearly one-fourth of mine casualties are children. In Libya, 27 percent of arable land remains covered by mine fields dating to World War II.
Molander said scant support existed for a total ban because many countries consider mines legitimate and effective defense wea-pons.
He said the meeting would focus on realistic controls, including a ban on plastic mines that can't be detected by minesweepers and on those without a self-destruct mechanism to limit their life in the ground.
Some developing countries argue it would be too expensive to scrap their stockpiles and switch to self-destructive, detectable weapons.
The United States and many other Western nations have declared a moratorium on exporting land mines. Russia, one of the world's top producers, said last month it would stop exporting weapons that were undetectable or did not self-destruct.
Molander said export bans would not solve the problem because of large stockpiles and a thriving black market.