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LET'S LEAD DRIVE AGAINST LAND MINES

The United States should be a leader in the worldwide movement to ban the use of indiscriminately deadly land mines and develop technology to get rid of those that already exist. Instead, President Clinton has approved the continued use of mines in "confrontation zones."

In deciding to allow the U.S. military to continue using land mines, Clinton is trying not only to stand on both sides of the fence but to balance on top as well.He ordered the Pentagon to stop using "dumb" mines - those that remain potentially lethal virtually forever - except for troop training and deployment on the Korean peninsula and possibly other areas of potential conflict - meaning essentially anywhere the military deems necessary.

The U.S. military can continue to use "smart" mines - that theoretically self-destruct after a certain time period - until a worldwide ban is instituted. And there is no guarantee when that will happen - if ever.

Clinton says he wants to ensure that American men and women in uniform are not exposed to any unnecessary risk. But what about the risk to innocent civilians and future American and other soldiers in areas where the mines are placed?

Land mines maim and kill more than 10,000 people each year, 30 to 40 percent of whom are children. The United Nations estimates there is one mine for every 50 people now alive. Do we really need more?

Vietnam veterans organizations have lobbied hard for a worldwide ban on mines because so many people lost arms or legs or their lives after personal encounters with the horribly destructive devices.

Clinton says this policy will "put the world on a path to negotiate an end to mines." How so?

His decision is obviously in deference to Pentagon requests for continued use of the mines because they are simple weapons that, once in place, remain deadly for many years. They don't require human supervision. But that's exactly what makes them so insidious. They kill totally indiscriminately - and children are often the innocent victims.

Clinton should rethink his position. In order to do that, he must worry less about pleasing the military and become more concerned about the needless death and destruction inflicted by land mines.