Britain gives boost to cluster-bomb ban as US warns against it (UK/US)
Hopes for a global agreement to outlaw cluster bombs were given a boost Thursday after British Premier Gordon Brown called for a total ban on the use of the weapons by the British military. A statement from Brown's spokesman injected fresh impetus into ongoing negotiations at an international conference on cluster bombs in Dublin.
"The prime minister had issued instructions to our negotiators in Dublin that we should work intensively to ban cluster bombs that cause unacceptable harm to civilians," it said.
A Downing Street spokesman said Brown had also asked the Ministry of Defence "to assess the remaining munitions in use to ensure that there was no risk to civilians."
Cluster bombs, which were first used in World War II, open in the air and scatter smaller bombs over a wide area. The fact that many fail to detonate on impact make them a risk to the lives of civilians for years.
British forces currently possess two types of cluster ammunitions, the artillery-fired M85 and the M73, which is launched from helicopters.
Campaigners claim British troops used the M85 bombs in the Iraq war in 2003.
The new stance received a warm welcome from human rights activists and charities.
Anna Macdonald, head of arms control for Oxfam, said: "Britain has at last come in from the cold. We hope that this strong statement from the prime minister will ensure that the UK signs onto the treaty and immediately gets rid of these weapons which maim and kill long after they have been dropped."
Simon Conway, co-chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition and director of Landmine Action, said: "We are glad that Gordon Brown is making good on his previous public commitment to ban cluster bombs."
The Dublin summit, which runs until May 30, is aiming to strike an international agreement that would completely eradicate the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions among signatories.
However, the US on Wednesday opposed a worldwide ban on cluster bombs, calling instead for "technological fixes" that would make them safer.
State Department expert Stephen Mull told reporters the US is "deeply concerned" about the danger of such munitions, but said a ban like one proposed at a major conference in Dublin would be impractical.
"We think that it will be impossible to ban cluster munitions as many in the Oslo process would like to do, because these are weapons that have a certain military utility," Mull said.
"So rather than ban them, we think that a much more effective way to go about this is through technological fixes that will make sure that these weapons are no longer viable once the conflict is over," Mull said. He did not explain how such a technological solution might work.
The US and other key cluster bomb producers and stockpilers are absent from the meeting where more than 100 nations are pursuing negotiations launched last year in Norway for a treaty banning the munitions.
Others absent are China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Russia. The US takes part instead in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in Geneva, which Mull says is better as the "principal producers and users of these munitions vote and participate and work together."
UN chief Ban Ki-moon called Monday for a "visionary" global deal to ban cluster bombs at the talks in Dublin.
Under the draft treaty, signatories would never use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer cluster munitions. They would also have six years to destroy their stockpiles.
If the treaty passes in its current form, "any US military ship would be technically not able to get involved in a peacekeeping operation, in providing disaster relief or humanitarian assistance ... because military units have in their inventory those kinds of munitions," Mull claimed.
Among the countries present in Dublin are France, Germany, Australia, Canada, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Lebanon.
Following Israel's summer 2006 war on Lebanon, UN experts estimated that as many as one million unexploded bomblets dropped by the Jewish state contaminate the hundreds of cluster munition strike sites in Lebanon.
Unexploded cluster bombs dropped by Israel remain in much of South Lebanon, and have killed dozens of civilians and wounded scores more.
In an interview with As-Safir newspaper, Major General Claudio Graziano, commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said strike maps provided by Israel detailing infested areas were not helpful.
"The maps offered by Israel are not enough; we need the coordinates they have used to launch those munitions," Graziano said.
"They vowed to do so and we hope they will," he added.
Von: 23.5.2008, www.dailystar.com.lb