Cluster bomb ban sought
48 nations cite 'unacceptable harm' of weapon
OSLO -- Representatives from 48 nations yesterday launched a global effort to ban the use, production and stockpiling of cluster bombs by the end of next year, despite the opposition of several of the world's major military powers.
A draft declaration, said these weapons -- which can linger on former battlefields for years -- cause "unacceptable harm." It calls for a treaty banning them by 2008, despite concerns that some countries would not agree to act that quickly.
Norway hopes the treaty would be similar to one outlawing antipersonnel mines, negotiated in Oslo in 1997.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said advocates should push for a treaty by the end of 2008, despite concerns.
"I believe any other target will be a wrong signal," he said.
The United States, China, and Russia oppose the ban and did not send representatives to the meeting. Australia, Israel, India and Pakistan also did not attend. The United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Japan say the weapons can be dealt with under the 1980 UN Convention on Conventional Weapons.
Cluster bombs are small devices packed with high explosives and loaded into artillery shells, bombs or missiles. When the larger munition explodes, it scatters hundreds of the mini-explosives -- called bomblets -- over large areas.
A percentage of these bomblets typically fail to explode immediately, but may still detonate if they are picked up or struck -- endangering civilians, often children, years after conflicts end.
The draft declaration calls for a treaty that would "prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians."
It also urged countries to consider banning such weapons before the treaty takes effect. Norway, which is spearheading the initiative, has already done so. Austria announced a moratorium on cluster bombs at the start of the conference.
The Cluster Munition Coalition, an advocacy group cohosting Wednesday's civilian forum, said the weapons have recently been used in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Lebanon.
The UN has estimated that Israel dropped as many as 4 million of the bomblets in southern Lebanon during last year's war with Hezbollah, with as many as 40 percent failing to explode on impact.
Activists say children can be attracted to the unexploded weapons by their small size, shape and bright colors or shiny metal surfaces.
As many as 60 percent of cluster bomb victims in Southeast Asia are children, the Cluster Munition Coalition said.