Robert Evans / Reuters North American News Service – 2008-09-03 22:53:33
Campaigners Criticize Georgia over Cluster Bomb Use
GENEVA (September 3, 2008) — Campaigners seeking a ban on cluster bombs called on Georgia on Wednesday to renounce any further use of the weapons which it said it had used against Russian forces in South Ossetia.
The Cluster Munitions Coalition also said that despite Moscow’s denials, Russia had deployed the fragmenting bombs in attacks in and around the Georgian city of Gori during fighting in August, killing 11 civilians.
“Cluster bombs are indiscriminate killers not only during attacks but they leave a deadly legacy long after conflict,” said Thomas Nash, coordinator of the coalition which hopes to see over 100 countries formally sign up to a ban in Oslo in December.
Russia, the United States and China are among major military powers who have stayed aloof from what has been dubbed the “Oslo process” to ban cluster bombs. They are taking part in negotiations on a weaker pact at the United Nations.
Nash said his grouping, which links 250 non-governmental organisations in 70 countries, would work hard to make sure that Georgia — as the newest user of the weapons — gives them up.
“We are disturbed to learn that both Georgia and Russia have used cluster munitions,” he added. The development highlighted the urgency of the international ban which “the majority of the world’s nations” would sign in Oslo.
On Tuesday, Russia’s ambassador in Geneva Valery Loshchinin told the U.N.-sponsored Disarmament Conference that no cluster weapons had been used by its troops against civilians in the August conflict.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which is part of the cluster bomb coalition and has had monitors in Georgia since the start of its brief conflict with Russia over South Ossetia, had said on Monday that Tbilisi confirmed one use of the weapon.
In its statement, the Cluster Munitions Coalition quoted a letter from the Georgian Defence Ministry to HRW as saying the bombs were used “against Russian military equipment and armament” near the Roki tunnel that links Russia to South Ossetia.
But the weapons “were never used against civilians, civilian targets and civilian populated or nearby areas”, the Georgian letter said, according to the coalition.
Supporters of a ban on cluster bombs, which can be fired from ground-based artillery or from aircraft, say they violate international humanitarian law because they do not distinguish between military and civilian targets.
They also kill and maim long after fighting is over because many of the bomblets that they break up into before impact fail to go off and present a lethal danger to local people, especially farmers and children, for years afterwards. (Editing by Laura MacInnis and Elizabeth Piper)
Source: Reuters North American News Service
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