Australia supports cluster bomb ban
Eighty-two countries including Australia have signed a declaration supporting a ban on the use of cluster bombs. Australia signed after being accused of trying to water down measures to curb the use and stockpiling of the lethal weapons. The so-called Wellington Declaration on Cluster Munitions indicates signatories' support for a ban on cluster weapons that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
Of the 122 countries invited to the Wellington conference, more were expected to sign the declaration in coming weeks.
Countries that signed the document affirmed a ban on the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of the bombs, and called for a framework to care for survivors of cluster munitions.
Cluster bombs contain smaller bomblets that scatter over a wide area and can kill or maim civilians years after a conflict has ended.
The new document will be taken to a May meeting in Dublin, where delegates will aim to finalise the text of a draft treaty to be signed in Oslo in December.
This week's conference was held under a cloud because it was snubbed by many key nations who have stockpiles of cluster bombs, including the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Russia and Israel.
Australia's delegation was accused during the five-day meeting of aligning itself with countries including the UK, Canada, France, Germany and Japan that sought to water down proposals and undermine the aims of the treaty.
Former Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams said the group was part of a "bad guys' cabal" trying to frustrate the treaty process and water down key measures to appease the United States.
The Cluster Munition Coalition, which represents non-government organisations (NGOs) that work with cluster bomb victims, also attacked Australia and other countries.
Australia's head of delegation Caroline Millar said the criticisms were expected.
"It comes with the territory, mate. Basically, NGOs will criticise and so on, and that is up to them," Millar said.
"We think we have a very strong position. We have had a very clear unequivocal commitment to work with all states to achieve a ban on cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians," she said.
Millar told the meeting on Friday that Australia would support the Wellington declaration, but was unhappy with some aspects of the conference.
"We regret that, as has been the case at previous meetings of the Oslo process, the level of transparency has at times been less than we would have expected from friends and partners," she told the meeting.
Outstanding concerns Australia hoped to have addressed in Dublin included restrictions on defence forces working with allies such as the USA, which had not signed up.
Other matters included defining what a cluster bomb is, and how to deal with stockpiles used for testing and training purposes, she said.
During an often heated meeting on Friday, Canada said it was sick of being targeted for criticism.
"Countries such as my own and several close allies have been vilified in the press and in releases produced by the Cluster Munition Coalition," said Earl Turcotte, from the Canadian delegation.
"We have been accused of being agents of states not party (to the process), and trying to facilitate the use of cluster munitions by states not partied.
"We have been accused of 'trying to undermine an international treaty on cluster munitions'. Nothing, nothing, could be further from the truth."
New Zealand's Disarmament Minister Phil Goff said the meeting was a "rousing success" and he thought Australia felt as much need to advance the issue of cluster bombs as his own nation did.
"I am pleased that Australia is here and is participating, and I am confident that Australia will participate through to Dublin and will become part of the solution," Goff said.
He believed countries who had not come to Wellington would be under pressure to stop using the munitions eventually.
Von: http://news.theage.com.au, 22.02.2008