International meeting to seek ban on cluster bombs

February 16th, 2008 - 9:52 am ICT by admin  

DPA
Wellington, Feb 16 (DPA) Representatives from 120 countries will meet in New Zealand next week to draft an international agreement banning cluster bombs that have killed or maimed thousands of civilians - but the US and other major weapon-producing nations will not attend. Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel - which was widely condemned for indiscriminate use of the bombs in its 34-day war on Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 - will be conspicuous by their absence.

But New Zealand officials are confident the Wellington conference on cluster munitions from Feb 18-22 will continue to build enough pressure on manufacturing countries to lead to a global ban eventually.

A total of 34 states are known to have produced 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.

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

At least 25 countries have unexploded cluster munitions on their land and 76 nations are known to have stockpiled billions of the weapons, posing what officials describe as a “grave humanitarian problem”.

With moves to get a global ban making only glacial progress in the UN, a group of seven states - Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Mexico, Peru and the Holy See - launched their own drive for a treaty outlawing cluster bombs in Oslo a year ago.

A total of 46 countries were represented there and 68 sent delegates to the next meeting in Lima so New Zealand officials see the 120 states who have registered for Wellington as indicating a groundswell of support for a ban.

While the US will not be there - “aggressively pursuing other options” through the UN, according to Washington - officials believe the so-called Oslo Process designed to produce a legally binding international treaty for “prohibition on the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians” to be irreversible.

Sources admit there remain significant differences of opinion on exactly which weapons should be included in the treaty and issues such as how stockpiles should be disposed off in an environmentally acceptable way and whether some should be retained for disposal training purposes.

They do not expect to reach final agreement next week but are aiming to produce a framework for a final negotiation at the next meeting scheduled for Dublin in May.
DPA

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