Norway conference aims for cluster bomb ban by 2008

By John Acher

OSLO - Norway hosts a 40-nation meeting this week to bolster support for a ban on cluster bombs which campaigners blame for killing and maiming thousands of civilians, many of them children.

The Scandinavian country took the lead on the anti-cluster bomb campaign after the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in November failed to agree to start negotiations on a ban.

"We are talking about munitions with inhumane consequences," said Raymond Johansen, a senior Norwegian foreign ministry official. "We hope this conference will lead to a very efficient action plan on how to proceed with this."

Norway, which plans to replicate the anti-landmine campaign that won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, hopes to push through a ban by 2008.

Cluster munitions comprise a variety of weapons that disperse anywhere from 10 to several hundred submunitions, or bomblets, over a target area.

They can be dropped from aircraft or fired in artillery shells or missiles and have been used in conflicts around the world, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. The bomblets often remain unexploded and endanger civilians for decades after conflicts.

Handicap International estimates cluster bombs have killed more than 11,000 civilians around the globe in the past 30 years, but notes those are only documented cases.

The advocacy group for those maimed by weapons calculates 184 civilian casualties, a third of them children, were caused by cluster bombs after Israel's attacks on Hizbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon last year.

"Governments must first of all institute a formal moratorium on the use of cluster munitions immediately and declare that they will not use, produce or acquire them while the new treaty is being negotiated," said Thomas Nash, coordinator of the London-based Cluster Munition Coalition.

The United States, Russia, China and other military powers have resisted moves to curb cluster munitions because they say humanitarian law already lays down guidlines for their use.

Norway, along with Canada, was instrumental in the anti-landmine campaign which resulted in the Ottawa treaty banning them.

Jody Williams, who shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), will attend the Oslo meetings.

- REUTERS

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