Friday, February 23, 2007

46 of 49 nations OK ban on cluster bombs

By DOUG MELLGREN, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 10 minutes ago

A declaration calling for a 2008 treaty banning cluster bombs was adopted Friday by 46 out of 49 nations attending a conference in Oslo, officials for the Norwegian government and two non-governmental groups said.

Norway's deputy foreign minister Raymond Johansen said Poland, Romania and Japan did not approve the final declaration. Officials for Human Rights Watch and the Cluster Munition Coalition also said those three countries dissented.

The gathering was snubbed by some key arms makers — including the U.S., Russia, Israel and China — but organizers said other nations needed to forge ahead regardless to avoid a potential humanitarian disaster posed by unexploded cluster munitions.

A declaration presented on the last day of the meeting urged nations to "conclude by 2008 a legally binding international instrument" to ban cluster bombs.

The treaty would "prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians," the declaration said.

Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles, which scatter them over vast areas, with some failing to explode immediately. The unexploded bomblets can then lie dormant for years after conflicts end until they are disturbed, often by civilians.

As many as 60 percent of the victims in Southeast Asia are children, the Cluster Munition Coalition said. The weapons have recently been used Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Lebanon, it said. The U.N. estimated that Israel dropped as many as 4 million bomblets in southern Lebanon during last year's war with Hezbollah, with as many 40 percent failing to explode on impact.

Children can be attracted to the unexploded weapons by their small size, shape and bright colors, activists say.

Friday's declaration urged countries to take steps at a national level before the treaty takes effect. Norway has already done so, while Austria announced a moratorium on cluster bombs at the start of the conference.

"It is nonbinding. It is not a legal document. But it is a statement of political will," Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch said of the declaration.

Norway hopes the treaty would be similar to one outlawing anti-personnel mines, negotiated in Oslo in 1997.

The U.S., China and Russia have refused to sign the land mine treaty and oppose the Norwegian initiative on cluster bombs. They did not send representatives to the meeting. Australia, Israel, India and Pakistan also did not attend. Those nations say the weapons should be dealt with in other arenas, such as the U.N. Convention on Conventional Weapons, known as CCW.

Goose said the major powers don't need to be involved for the treaties to have an impact. Activists say the point is to stigmatize the weapons.

"If you need proof that you can conclude a treaty without the United States, Russia and China, look at the land mine treaty," he said. Goose said even though major powers have rejected the treaty, they have stopped deploying land mines, and that the number of civilian casualties have been cut in half since 1997.

Before the meeting, activist groups feared some countries would seek to water down, or even squash, a declaration by insisting on a longer or nonexistent deadline. But Nash said the first day of talks made it clear that there would be a declaration, with the 2008 deadline, even if some countries rejected it.

The declaration said work on the cluster bomb treaty would be carried out in Lima, Peru, in May or June; in Vienna, Austria, in November or December, and in Dublin, Ireland, in early 2008.


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