Makers absent from cluster ban vote
(24.02.2007) FORTY-SIX countries pledged to work to a worldwide ban on cluster bombs overnight, with the world's biggest cluster-bomb makers absent from the vote.
The declaration, which came 10 years after a landmark global ban on landmines, said the new pact should "prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians".
"Almost all of the countries signed onto this declaration which is a starting point for reaching a ban on cluster munitions in 2008," said Raymond Johansen, a senior foreign ministry official from Norway, which hosted the gathering.
Used in conflicts from Vietnam to Iraq, cluster munitions are blamed for killing and maiming thousands of civilians, and for sowing horror decades after they are fired in combat since duds left on the ground can be set off years later.
Mr Johansen said Norway hoped the cluster bomb pact would enjoy the same kind of success as the Ottawa convention that banned anti-personnel landmines, which has been ratified by 153 states.
Big cluster munitions-producing states, including the United States, Russia and China, did not attend the two-day Oslo conference and Poland, Japan and Romania declined to back the declaration.
The 46 countries which did support it planned further meetings in Lima in May-June, Vienna in November-December and Dublin in early 2008.
Jody Williams, who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for the landmine initiative together with her campaign, said she believed the effort would succeed.
"When we started the landmine campaign way back in '92, people at that point said 'go home little girl, nothing will ever happen'," she said.
"Within five years, we had captured the public conscience and we had a treaty banning landmines. I believe there will be a treaty on clusters."
Japan, Poland and Romania said they preferred to deal with cluster munitions within the UN's Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which failed in November to agree to start negotiations on a ban, prompting Norway to take the lead.
The declaration was also supported by UN organisations, the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups and campaigners in the Cluster Munition Coalition who have fought for a ban.
"The meeting definitely exceeded our expectations," said Steven Goose, director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch. "We are growing in leaps and bounds."
Advocacy group Handicap International cites 11,000 documented cases where civilians have been killed or injured by cluster munitions over the past 30 years.
Von: 24.02.2007 www.news.com By John Acher