The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to American activist Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which she guided through a six-year effort that has produced an agreement by more than half the world's nations--but not the United States--to outlaw the insidious explosives.
Awakened at 5 a.m. by a Norwegian television station that told her the news, Williams said that she hoped the prize would change President Clinton's decision to withhold U.S. approval from a treaty to ban antipersonnel land mines. The pact is to be signed in December by as many as 100 countries.
But White House spokesman Mike McCurry said that the president is "rock-solid confident" in his determination that the U.S. military could not afford to give up the right to use mines, especially in Korea. The Pentagon counts on extensive minefields to blunt a North Korean invasion across a border that is just 30 miles from the South Korean capital.
While Clinton continued to hold out, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin told a meeting of the 40-member Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, that his government would sign the treaty even though Moscow boycotted the negotiations that produced the draft.
Williams and the campaign will split the $1-million prize for their work to rid the world of a weapon that annually kills and maims an estimated 26,000 people, most of them civilians and many of them delayed casualties of wars already over. The Nobel committee said that more than 100 million mines remain in the ground, many of them in unmarked fields where not even the soldiers who originally laid them can find them.
Mines remain deadly for years after their military purpose has ended. Afghanistan and Angola have an estimated 9 million mines each.
"The [campaign organization] and Jody Williams started a process which in the space of a few years changed a ban on antipersonnel mines from a vision to a feasible reality," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in announcing the prize. "The convention, which will be signed in Ottawa in December this year, is to a considerable extent a result of their important work."
The five-member committee works in total secrecy in selecting the winner of the world's most prestigious award. This year, as often in the past, the panel used the prize to send a clear political message to the world's leaders.
In its announcement, the committee said that mines "maim and kill indiscriminately and are a major threat to the civilian populations and to the social and economic development of the main countries affected." This time, Clinton rejected the message but Yeltsin heard it loud and clear.
"The president is absolutely rock-solid confident that he's got the right approach that protects our interest and works in the interest of eliminating the scourge of land mines," McCurry told reporters Friday.
But Yeltsin said: "Even though major Western powers say no, I say we support and will strive for the goal of resolving once and for all this problem and sign the convention."
But analysts in Moscow said that Yeltsin has a history of telling foreign audiences what they want to hear and may be unable--or unwilling--to deliver on the promise if pressure mounts from Russian arms producers to retain their share of the market.
Even if Russia signs the pact, ratification by the opposition-controlled Parliament may prove difficult.
Williams, who turned 47 Thursday, founded the International Campaign. It is now a coalition of more than 1,000 groups. She lives in a house down a dirt road on the outskirts of Putney, Vt.
A longtime human rights activist, Williams became aware of the damage and destruction caused by land mines from her work in Central America in the 1980s. She also credits the Vietnam Veterans of America--a founding organization of the campaign--with recruiting her for the cause.
Bobby Muller, president of the Vietnam Veterans, said in a telephone interview that he learned of the prize at 4:30 a.m., when a Norwegian television crew knocked on his front door "just like Publisher's Clearing House," marched into his bedroom, videotape rolling, and tossed a bouquet of flowers in his lap. "Congratulations, you just won the Nobel Peace Prize," the Norwegian reporter mistakenly said.
Muller, who is confined to a wheelchair, identified three turning points in the effort to ban mines: the March 1996 open letter to President Clinton signed by a number of prominent retired U.S. generals urging a land mine ban; the October 1996 announcement by the Canadian government that it would sponsor a formal treaty; and the death of Britain's Princess Diana, who had dramatized the campaign with visits to Angola and Bosnia.
Muller said that Diana's death "brought this issue to mass public consciousness."
Williams, who has a master's degree in international studies, was sharply critical of Clinton for refusing to endorse the treaty.
"I've repeatedly said that Bill Clinton is neither a leader nor a statesman, and I'll say it again," she said. "I hope this prize will help change his mind."
Williams said that she would urge the president "to reconsider his policy and explain it to me. . . . He has abdicated his role as commander in chief and let the military set foreign policy."
Times staff writer Carol J. Williams in Moscow contributed to this story.
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The War Against Land Mines
American Jody Williams and her International Campaign to Ban Landmines won the Nobel Peace Prize for their battle to eliminate the explosives. The prize, worth $1 million, is to be divided equally between Williams and the organization.
THE COUNTRIES MOST AFFECTED
Land mines are planted in more than 70 countries. These nations are believed to have the most.
Source: International Committee of the Red Cross, Associated Press
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26,000 Victims a Year
At least 26,000 people lose their lives or limbs each year to land mines. Civilian casualties account for 87%. Below is a breakdown of those injured by land mines:
HOW INJURIES OCCUR
Military fighting: 13%
Playing with mines: 8%
Other civilian activities: 44%
Working in fields, fetching water: 20%
TYPES OF MINES
Blast mines: Hidden underground--triggered when stepped on
Fragmentation mines: Placed above ground--triggered by tripwire
Bounding fragmentation mines: Initial charge throws mine into air, where it explodes
WORLD HOT SPOTS
Country: Millions of mines
Source: International Committee of the Red Cross, ICBL, Associated Press