Cluster-bomb ban gets international push in New Zealand

February 18th, 2008 - 11:17 am ICT by admin  

Wellington, Feb 18 (DPA) An international conference to draft a treaty banning cluster bombs has opened in Wellington with a warning that some arms-producing countries were trying to water it down before a final text is agreed. More than 500 delegates from 120 countries are attending the weeklong conference that began Sunday. This is the fourth in a series launched by a group of seven nations in Oslo a year ago.

The US and other major weapon-producing nations, including Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel - which was widely condemned for indiscriminate use of the bombs in its 34-day war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 - are not present.

The Cluster Munition Coalition, a powerful lobby network of 200 global non-governmental organisations, said other countries such as Germany, France, Britain and Japan were exerting diplomatic pressure to weaken the draft treaty before it goes to a final meeting in Dublin in May for approval.

Steve Goose, co-chairman of the coalition, told a news conference that cluster bombs were the most dangerous conventional weapon of the age since landmines were banned by an international convention in 1997.

He said a cluster bomb agreement would be the “most important disarmament and humanitarian treaty of the past decade” and urged the government delegates at the conference to resist pressures to dilute the draft.

At least 76 countries have stockpiles of more than 210 different types of cluster bombs, which are designed to explode on impact, scattering hundreds of smaller bomblets over wide areas, inevitably causing mass civilian casualties.

Their failure rate is high, leaving thousands of unexploded bomblets on the ground like de facto landmines for years after conflicts have ended, with inquisitive children frequently the victims.

Goose said arms manufacturing countries wanted to exclude certain weapons, including those with self-destruct mechanisms, from the treaty, allow a transition period of up to 10 years before they are banned and allow signatories to have joint military operations with others who use them and do not sign it.

He described cluster bombs as “cold war weapons” and said their production had largely been suspended, but stockpiled billions posed a horrifying prospect for proliferation if they were used.

New Zealand Disarmament and Defence Minister Phil Goff said that a significant mass of support for a treaty in Wellington could put enough pressure on manufacturing countries to persuade them not to use the weapons even if they did not sign it.

Opening the conference, he said: “It is civilians who are killed and injured by unexploded cluster munitions. Decades after their use in battle, people are still being killed or maimed.

“The legacy of unexploded cluster munitions endangers civilian lives in the same way that landmines do and the problem needs to be dealt with in a similar manner.”

Cluster weapons were first used in World War II when they were known as “butterfly bombs” and have since been widely used in at least 24 countries, including Laos in the 1960s, Vietnam and Cambodia, Afghanistan, Africa, Kosovo in 1999, Iraq and Lebanon.

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