Nations Seek to Ban Cluster Bombs

The Associated Press
Thursday, February 22, 2007; 6:44 PM

OSLO, Norway -- Representatives from 48 nations launched on Thursday a global effort to ban the use, production and stockpiling of cluster bombs by the end of next year despite the opposition of several major military powers.

A draft declaration obtained by The Associated Press said the 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 anti-personnel mines, negotiated in Oslo in 1997.

"Our hope is to get as many countries as possible to join, and it will remain open," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told The Associated Press in an interview.

The U.S., China and Russia oppose the ban and did not send representatives to the two-day conference. Australia, Israel, India and Pakistan also did not attend.

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."

The treaty, the declaration said, should also create a framework for helping victims of cluster bombs, clearing the munitions and "destruction of stockpiles of prohibited cluster munitions."

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.

"This is a critical juncture," Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch told delegates. "Let us hope this meeting will be remembered as the meeting where a large number of countries decided that cluster munitions are not just another weapon."

Goose called cluster bombs "a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen" because they continue to kill long after a conflict has ended.

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