BBC World News – 2008-02-18 00:29:34
NZ Hosts Meeting on Cluster Bombs
WELLINGTON (February 18, 2008) — More than 120 countries are meeting in New Zealand to discuss an agreement limiting the use of cluster bombs. The talks — launched last year — aim to smooth progress towards the signing of a global treaty later this year. But some major producers and buyers of cluster bombs — including the US, Israel, Russia and China — are absent.
Cluster bombs are controversial because they often fail to explode on contact with the ground, and may later end up killing or maiming civilians. The UN has estimated that 40% of the victims of cluster bombs are children.
As well as government representatives from 120 countries, campaigners and survivors of cluster bombs are attending the talks in the capital, Wellington.
The talks seek to reach agreement on exactly which weapons should be banned under the proposed convention.
Under the proposed agreement, countries which use the weapons would also be responsible for disposing of them at the end of hostilities.
“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, told the Associated Press news agency.
Some 41 of 76 nations which are major holders of cluster bomb stocks are reported to be attending the talks.
Despite the absence of some major producers, reaching an agreement in Wellington would be a “pivotal” step in the process of eventually establishing a meaningful accord, said the minister for disarmament and arms control, Phil Goff.
It is estimated that between 10% and 40% of the bomblets released by cluster bombs just above the ground fail to detonate, posing a threat to civilians in the area.
Some opponents of an outright ban suggest instead the development of “smart” cluster munitions, that can be better targeted and that do not leave behind many unexploded bombs.
Final diplomatic negotiations on the proposed convention are scheduled for May in Ireland.
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US Plans Cluster Bomb Task Force
WASHINGTON (January 16, 2008) — The United States says it is ready to create a rapid reaction force to defuse cluster bombs left over from conflicts.
Officials made the suggestion at a United Nations conference in Geneva to discuss conventional weapons and how to protect civilians after hostilities. They said the new force would go at short notice to places where the civilian population was at risk.
The US, Russia, China and Israel, which all produce and stockpile the weapons, oppose efforts to ban cluster bombs.
Nearly 100 countries support the so-called “Oslo Process” – an initiative launched by the Norwegian government in 2007, which aims to produce a legally binding treaty banning cluster munitions by the end of 2008.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which supports a ban, estimates that 400 million people in countries and regions like Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Chechnya live in areas affected by cluster bombs — effectively minefields.
When dropped from aircraft, the bombs break apart to scatter hundreds of small bomblets over a wide area. Some are designed not to explode on impact and can lie unexploded on the ground until disturbed, posing a threat to civilians long after conflicts end.
The US supports the use of cluster bombs if used and defused properly, and says efforts should focus on ensuring countries know how to use the weapons in a way that is in full accordance with international humanitarian law.
A statement from US officials at the conference said the proposed reaction force “would respond globally to short notice and emergent humanitarian operations that require the removal or mitigation of explosive hazards to protect civilian populations”. They said further details would be released at a later date.
The BBC’s Imogen Foulkes, in Geneva, says the US move is seen as a sign that US will continue to oppose a ban.
An example of recent use of cluster bombs was in the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel. The UN says about four million cluster bomblets were dropped on Lebanon during the 34-day conflict.
Israeli military prosecutors said the deployment was legal under international law.
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Israeli Cluster Bomb Use ‘Legal’
(December 24, 2007) — Israeli military prosecutors say the army’s much-criticised deployment of cluster bombs in last year’s Lebanon war was legal under international law.
The Israeli army announced there would be no indictments against officers who used them, after a year-long enquiry. “The use of the weaponry was a concrete military necessity,” a statement said.
The UN called Israel’s cluster bombing “shocking and immoral”, as most were used in the last 72 hours of fighting when a resolution was clearly imminent.
According to the inquiry by the head of the army’s Defence College, the majority of cluster bombs were dropped in open areas and their use in urban areas was an “immediate response” to target areas that were being used as launch pads by Hezbollah guerrillas. The findings were accepted by the army’s Judge Advocate General Avihai Mandelblit.
The UN says about four million cluster bomblets were dropped on Lebanon during the 34-day conflict. Many of them failed to explode on impact, posing a danger to civilians in their homes, gardens and fields. More than 30 people have been reported killed by cluster bomb and land mine explosions since the 2006 war.
Although cluster bombs are not illegal under the laws of war, campaigners say their use in populated areas constitutes an indiscriminate attack on civilians.
© BBC MMVIII
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