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Activists say the Biden administration's latest landmine restrictions aren't enough

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Biden administration plans to restrict the use of anti-personnel land mines by the U.S. military. These are mines specifically designed to hurt or kill enemy troops, and the policy is a change from the Trump administration's more permissive approach. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In conflict zones around the world, land mines kill and injure thousands of people a year, most of them civilians. And though the U.S. is not a part of an international treaty banning land mines, it is taking a step in that direction. Under Secretary of State Bonnie Jenkins announced a new policy today.

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BONNIE JENKINS: The United States' new policy on anti-personnel land mines is centered on people, the communities and the individuals around the world who seek peace and security.

KELEMEN: The U.S. is restricting land mine use everywhere but on the Korean Peninsula. Another top State Department official, Stanley Brown, says the U.S. needs to defend South Korea from a potential invasion from the North.

STANLEY BROWN: Basically, we are not going to develop or produce or acquire anti-personnel land mines. We're not going to export or transfer anti-personnel land mines. We're not going to use them outside the Korean Peninsula. Part of the policy is also to undertake to destroy all anti-personnel stockpiles not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea.

KELEMEN: He says the U.S. policy is back to where it was during the Obama administration. Anti-land mine activists call this a step in the right direction.

JEFF MEER: It is not sufficient. It does not finish the job. It does not get us over the finish line.

KELEMEN: Jeff Meer runs an aid group called Humanity & Inclusion, which is a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

MEER: Humanity & Inclusion believes firmly that there is no place in today's modern world for land mines - anti-personnel land mines, in particular. And we believe that the United States should now and forever forswear the use of anti-personnel land mines and should accede to the Mine Ban Treaty that 164 other nations have already agreed to.

KELEMEN: Most U.S. allies are part of the 1997 treaty. China, Russia, India, Syria and Iran are among those who haven't signed. The State Department's Stanley Brown says the new U.S. policy is in sharp contrast to what Russia is doing in Ukraine.

BROWN: Where there's compelling evidence that Russian forces are using explosive munitions, including land mines, which is causing extensive harm to civilians and damage to vital civilian infrastructure there.

KELEMEN: Clean-up is costly and dangerous. And land mines pose a long-lasting threat, as Annie Shiel points out. She's with the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

ANNIE SHIEL: Land mines are indiscriminate weapons that cause devastating harm to civilians for decades after they are used. So this new policy is a really welcome and critical step towards bringing the United States in line with the global consensus against land mines.

KELEMEN: She'll be pushing the Biden administration to move quickly to destroy stockpiles of land mines and to continue to fund demining programs around the world.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF ED SHEERAN SONG, "THE JOKER AND THE QUEEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.