Negotiators 'not pushing PM's line' on cluster bombs ban (UK)

Gordon Brown's pledge to ban cluster munitions is being undermined by his own negotiators.


The ban - announced by the prime minister in his first foreign policy speech last week - mirrors the move made in 1998 by the then foreign minister, Robin Cook, who ratified international legislation banning landmines.
Mr Brown told an audience of businessmen at Mansion House that he wanted "to work internationally for a ban on the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of those cluster munitions which cause unacceptable harm to civilians".
However, as he made the announcement, British officials were at the Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva, negotiating for the continued use of controversial Israeli-made M85 explosives.
"To realise Brown's vision, the government will really have to give up the M85," the crossbench peer and former army general Lord Ramsbotham said.
Commenting on the CCW talks, he said he did not "feel our negotiators were pushing the Brown line".
The M85, a so-called smart-bomb that "self-destructs", has a failure record of between 1% and 2%, according to the government.
When Israeli forces dropped M85s during last summer's bombardment of southern Lebanon, the UN mine action coordination centre there said the failure rate was between 6% and 10%.
Steve Goose, the director of the arms division of Human Rights Watch, said: "Nobody like Brown, who wants to get rid of arms that cause unacceptable harm to civilians, would back the use of a weapon that has a 6-10% failure rate."
The British army used M85s in Basra, and Human Rights Watch fieldwork found cluster munitions aimed at military targets had killed civilians, with many failing to self-destruct at the time of attack.
An alternative legislative process - the Oslo Treaty, working for a complete ban by 2008, does exist, led by Norway and Austria, but Goose said the government had been "lukewarm in their support for this".
Brown's announcement - the first mention he has ever made of cluster munitions - followed a similar pledge by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and came ahead of a debate on the issue in the Lords today.
"We are working with partners ... to secure the best possible outcome of any international action on cluster munitions," a spokeswoman for the MoD said.
"The UK has already led the way internationally, in March of this year, by withdrawing two types of 'dumb' cluster munitions from service."

Von:, by Allegra Stratton, 20.11.2007

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