States sign cluster-bomb ban in Oslo


Oslo : A global ban on the use of cluster bombs blamed for maiming and killing thousands of civilians moved closer to reality Wednesday with the formal signing ceremony of a treaty banning the weapons.

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The treaty, which was negotiated in Dublin in May, bans the production, use and trade of cluster munitions. The Convention on Cluster Munitions will enter into force when ratified by 30 nations.

Cluster weapons – criticized for carrying a high risk of maiming or killing civilians – can be launched from the air or via artillery shells and can disperse hundreds of bomblets over a target area.

Children are often victims of the weapons since they sometimes mistake the so-called bomblets for toys.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg opened the conference, with delegates from over 100 countries assembled in Oslo City Hall, the venue for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

In his speech, Stoltenberg paid special tribute to victims of the weapons.

He later told reporters that he and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store hope to discuss the issue of cluster munitions with incoming US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The United States was not among the signatories. Nor were other major producers and users of cluster bomb munitions, such as Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan.

In all, 18 of the 26 NATO member states, including Germany and Norway, backed the treaty.

During speeches, delegates signed the treaty in an adjacent room. Early signatories included Lebanon, Peru, New Zealand, Zambia, and Mexico.

Speakers included Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith of Laos, who said the treaty was “a historic milestone” and would protect “innocent people from being subjected to the scourge of cluster munitions.”

Laos is one of the countries most impacted by cluster munitions, he said, noting that during the Indochina war some three million tonnes of bombs were dropped on Laos. A third of those did not explode initially.

In recent decades, Laos has registered some 300 casualties a year from munitions and unexploded bombs, he said. Those account for “about half of all confirmed cluster munition victims” worldwide.

Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakosone noted that Japan, since 1998, had spent $300 million on assisting 38 countries to clear mines and ordinance. Nakoson said the money had also been used to aid victims.

Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch, and co-chair of the Cluster Munitions Coalition, which has pushed for the ban, highlighted the need to ensure that countries do not purchase cluster munitions and then stockpile or transfer via other states.

The movement to ban cluster munitions has been compared to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. However, the cluster munitions treaty was negotiated much faster.

The use of the internet, e-mail lists and networks among various governments, humanitarian groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies was credited as having played a key role in mobilizing support for the ban and resulting in the treaty.