Draft treaty to ban cluster bombs reached in New Zealand

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Friday, February 22, 2008

A US B-1 Lancer releasing its payload of cluster bombs

An international meeting in New Zealand has produced a draft treaty to ban cluster bombs. Campaigners say the meeting has given a decisive push to efforts to create a meaningful global agreement, however some say success is far from guaranteed.

The draft accord drawn up in New Zealand declares that cluster bombs cause unacceptable harm to civilians, and that their production, stockpiling and use must be banned.

The proposed accord has been named the "Wellington Declaration," after talks this week in the New Zealand capital involving 122 countries. The conference was organized by the Cluster Munitions Coalition, a network of 200 private organizations that includes leaders of the Nobel peace prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Activists hope the draft, which was signed by representatives of 82 of the attending nations, will be turned into a binding treaty at a follow-up meeting scheduled in Ireland in May.

However, British negotiators have warned that tough discussions lie ahead before a binding treaty is finally signed.

There is opposition to a global ban by the United States, Russia and China, as well as India, Pakistan and Israel. All are major producers of cluster munitions and none attended the Wellington summit. Washington opposes a ban because of the weapons' military effectiveness.

But Jody Williams, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to ban landmines, says she believes an international ban on cluster bombs is inevitable.

"If we, you know, have 80 countries that subscribe to it at the end of Dublin, that will be in terrific, and the signing will be in December and we will use all of that time to bring more countries on board," she said. "I think we're going to see a very exciting new treaty banning cluster munitions, demonstrating that even in this difficult time we can continue to ban weapons that are indiscriminate and cause untold civilian casualties and harm."

Cluster bombs are designed to explode above the ground and release thousands of small bomblets primed to detonate on impact. Many do not explode immediately, and can lie in fields or villages, where they later kill and maim people who come across them.

Efforts toward an international ban began in Norway last year. The meeting in Wellington, and May's follow-up in Ireland, are part of what is being called the "Oslo Process."


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