Nations to Form Land-Mine Removal Center

The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 4, 2006; 9:28 PM

MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Defense ministers from across the Americas agreed Wednesday to create an international land-mine removal center and many called for joint military missions for disaster relief and peacekeeping worldwide.

After a decade of relative stability across the region, Latin American officials wrapping up a three-day Western Hemisphere's Defense Ministers Conference said their militaries should do more than simply protect their borders.

Throughout the 1980s, civil wars raged in Central America. Now defense ministers want to show that their militaries have been transformed into model forces.

"We believe that we can support, as a region, the strengthening of world peace, democracy and respect for human rights, as our fundamental mission," Guatemalan Defense Minister Gen. Francisco Bermudez said.

Guatemala already has 218 soldiers in Congo, Haiti, Burundi and other countries on humanitarian missions.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld joined ministers from more than 30 Latin American and Caribbean nations in approving Nicaragua's proposal to open an international center in Managua for removing land mines around the globe, Nicaraguan Defense Minister Avil Ramirez said.

"In this way we can give back to the countries who helped us when we needed it most," Ramirez said.

Central American soldiers have removed thousands of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines since their civil wars ended in the 1990s.

The ministers also expressed support for the region's armed forces assuming a larger role in peacekeeping missions with the United Nations and for disaster relief worldwide.

Ramirez said Nicaragua signed bilateral agreements with Peru, Uruguay and Canada for joint humanitarian missions.

The ministers also promised to cooperate on fighting international terrorism and drug and migrant trafficking.

© 2006 The Associated Press