Oslo leads global efforts to ban cluster bombs - Conference aims to shape practices of defiant states

TYRE: Eero Oijala, the young manager of Norwegian People's Aid supervising the non-governmental organization's cluster-munitions-clearance effort in South Lebanon, displays a picture of an airport runway covered with exploding cluster bombs on his computer screen. This, he explains, is a military test of the popular Israeli-made M85 cluster bomb, which is equipped with a self-destruct mechanism and touts an official 1 percent failure rate.


The M85 makes up nearly half of Norway's inventory of cluster bombs, as well as those stockpiled by such countries as the US, the UK and Germany.
Its technology has been lauded by visiting dignitaries like British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett to justify the use of cluster bombs. But as Oijala points out: "The testing has been done in laboratory conditions - it's on flat, hard ground. Here we have the reality."
Since Israel's war with Lebanon last summer, during which nearly 4 million cluster bombs were dropped in the final hours before a cease-fire came into effect, one-quarter are estimated to remain unexploded, scattered throughout soft, fertile agricultural land and civilian communities. The M85 represents a substantial number of the unexploded ordnance - particularly in areas along the Blue Line - proving that its failure rate is far higher than the manufacturer's estimates let on.
Oijala has recently been contracted by the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI), a government arm dedicated to military research and development, to spend much of his time investigating the M85's failure rate in South Lebanon. He predicts initial results will be published in April.
In the meantime, the Norwegian government declared an official moratorium on its use of cluster bombs last year, and has taken the lead by hosting 45 nations at the groundbreaking Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions, which is taking place this week.
The conference was conceived when states at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons conference failed to agree on a cluster-bomb ban last November. Thomas Nash, coordinator of the UK-based Cluster Munitions Coalition which is hosting a parallel set of civil society forums in Oslo with Norwegian People's Aid, explains: "They aim to develop, negotiate and conclude a cluster munitions treaty by the end of 2008. This conference is the first step."
Those not attending the conference are the US, China and Russia, which oppose any ban on the use of cluster bombs. "It may not be realistic for them to change, but we can shape their practices," says Nash. "Like the land-mine ban in 1997 shaped Russia's [actions]." Although the Russians did not sign on to the ban, he explains, "they have not used anti-personnel mines since."
The UK, however, while adamant about its right to use M85 cluster bombs, is a participant this time around.
"It is hoped the UK will play a positive role and take the issue seriously, that they will declare a moratorium on all cluster munitions while in treaty negotiations, and commit to the ban. Hopefully they will not derail this process," Nash says.
Nash believes the road to banning the cluster bomb will become clearer at the conference's end on Friday.
Meanwhile, in South Lebanon, Norwegian People's Aid reported that two men cutting down trees near their worksite at Deir Qanoun were seriously hurt by a cluster-bomb explosion last month, and were cared for and transported to hospital by medics already on the scene.
But many civilians are not so lucky, with the UN Mine Action Coordination Center in Tyre (UNMACC) reporting 217 casualties to date since last summer's cease-fire, 187 of them civilian, and 30 out of the total fatal.
While the UNMACC and demining teams continue their race toward a December 2007 clearance deadline - with 847 strike areas identified and around 100,000 cluster bombs disposed of so far - some of the world's most advanced nations, with Norway in the lead, seem to be genuinely re-evaluating the use of their weaponry.

Von: 22.02.2007 www.dailystar.com By Rebecca Murray

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