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Chechnya's Dubious Land Mine Title

More people were killed by land mines during the continuing conflict in Chechnya last year than anywhere else in the world, a watchdog group said Tuesday.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, reported that 5,695 people were killed by land mines in Chechnya in 2002, more than double the 2,140 casualties a year earlier. The group said Russian troops and Chechen rebels both use mines in the breakaway Russian region.

"Fighting, replete with massive violations of human rights and laws of war, including widespread use of mines by both sides, continues," the group said.

At the same time, a massive mine-clearing effort in Afghanistan is having the desired effect, lowering the toll from mines from 1,445 in 2001 to 1,286 last year, still the world's second-deadliest toll.

About $64 million was spent last year on mine-clearing operations, four times greater than in 2001, after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban government.

Nine of the world's 15 current land mine producers are in Asia: China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Singapore and Vietnam. Nepal was added to the list this year after the government in Katmandu admitted producing mines.

The group said that as of July 31, 134 countries, including Afghanistan, had ratified a treaty to ban land mines. The agreement awaits ratification in another 13. The United States, Russia and China are among the 47 countries that have yet to sign the treaty.

The Bush administration is reviewing the U.S. policy toward land mines. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines said the administration had stockpiled mines to use in the recent Iraq war but did not deploy them.

Six governments used land mines in 2002, down from nine in 2001 and 13 in 2000, the group said. This year, only two countries — Myanmar and Russia — continued to use mines on a regular basis, the group said.

The number of deaths in Myanmar, also known as Burma, doubled from 57 in 2001 to 114 in 2002. The Myanmar military has been accused of forcing people to walk in front of patrols in suspected minefields, so-called atrocity demining.

The report found that 11,700 people around the world were reported killed by mines last year, including 2,649 children and 192 women. The advocacy group said the actual total is higher because civilians are killed in areas with no help and no way to communicate, so their deaths are not reported.