UNITED NATIONS – Actor Michael Douglas presented U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan with an award for his dedication to ridding the world of land mines, marking the first international day to honor the cause.
Annan said in his acceptance speech Tuesday that "the goal of a world without land mines appears achievable in years — not decades as we used to think."
"Having been so effective in laying mines, we must now become even better at clearing them," he said, accepting the award from Adopt-A-Minefield, the world's largest non-governmental financier of programs to eliminate land mines.
The U.N. General Assembly established the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action to focus attention on efforts to eliminate millions of mines in 82 countries. Mines kill or maim between 15,000 and 20,000 people annually, according to U.N. figures.
Douglas and Annan joined Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and singer-songwriter Moby in a fundraising dinner that raised thousands of dollars for Adopt-A-Minefield.
"The United Nations is the leading international body working to make the problem of land mines a history lesson for our children," said the Oscar-winning actor, who campaigns for disarmament as a U.N. messenger for peace.
"Tens of thousands of lives have been saved and millions more improved as a result of the decision and commitment of this man and the inspiration that he leads," Douglas said of Annan.
Douglas said Adopt-A-Minefield was clearing minefields and helping survivors in 11 countries, and had raised over $17 million in the last six years.
The United Nations said events were held around the world to mark the International Day for Mine Awareness. Across the street from the United Nations, Angola's first lady Ana Paula Dos Santos and Annan's wife, Nane, attended a tree planting to mark the day.
Dos Santos then spoke on a panel about Angola's efforts to get rid of land mines. Last week, a government official said an estimated 7 million land mines remain hidden in unmarked minefields across the southern Africa country, four years after a protracted civil war ended.
"The Angolan government has for a long time had a program ... to open the routes and roads so that the elephants can once again circulate freely throughout the south of Angola," Dos Santos said.