Int'l conference opens on banning cluster bombs

Delegates from more than 120 countries opened negotiations Monday on an international convention that would ban the use, production, trade and storage of cluster bombs that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

Int'l conference opens on banning cluster bombs
Talks on the convention, first launched by Austria, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Peru and the Vatican last year, aim to define which cluster bomb weapons should be banned and which, such as those dispensing chaff used to deflect airborne missiles, can continue to be used.

"What we're trying to prohibit is those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians," the conference chairman, New Zealand Disarmament Ambassador Don Mackay said.

Some 41 of the 76 states in the world that stockpile cluster munitions are taking part in the negotiations, along with a majority of the weapon producers.

However, major producers such as the U.S., Russia, China and Pakistan have not joined the process and have no observers at this week's conference in the New Zealand capital, Wellington.

Cluster bombs are built to explode above the ground, releasing thousands of bomblets primed to detonate on impact. But combat results show between 10 percent and 40 percent fail to go off and lie primed in the target area to kill and injure civilians.

Talks on the convention were launched in Oslo, Norway last year, and this week's negotiations are the last talks among senior officials before final diplomatic negotiations scheduled for May in Ireland.

Steve Goose, director of the weapons division of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said several "crucial issues" could weaken the provisions of any treaty, including proposals to allow the use of bomblets that self-destruct; and delaying the ban for up to 10 years.

He said a push to allow states to engage in combined coalition operations "with an armed force that still may want to use cluster munitions," would also make the treaty inoperable.

"These approaches are nonstarters if you want to have a good, strong treaty," he added.

This week's meeting would reveal how serious nations that produce or stockpile cluster bombs were about controlling the damage they can cause.

"We will find out whether they put humanitarian issues at the top of their agenda, or their stockpiles," Goose told reporters.

"Cluster munitions are the most dangerous weapons out there today, now we have the land mine crisis under control," Goose said. "Getting a grip on this weapon is the most important thing we can do to protect civilians ... during and after combat."

Much cluster bomb production already has been suspended worldwide as producers and suppliers await the outcome of talks on the treaty, he said. About a dozen states producing the weapons had still to reveal their positions on the treaty, he added.

Hilde Johnson, deputy director of UNICEF, said 40 percent of the victims of cluster bombs are children.

"They think they're some sort of toy, then they explode in their face," she told New Zealand's National Radio.

New Zealand Disarmament Minister Phil Goff said most nations were appalled at the high level of cluster munitions used by Israel in the final days of its war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in 2006, an event that had "given real momentum to what we're doing now."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 18 Şubat 2008, 17:03