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UN Slams Use of Cluster Bombs as 8 Die
Published on Friday, October 26, 2001 in The News International, Pakistan
UN Slams Use of Cluster Bombs as 8 Die
 
WASHINGTON: The United Nations has sounded an alarm over the use of cluster bombs by American aircraft attacking Afghanistan, saying eight people died in a Herat village by dozens of unexploded orange-colored"bomblets" littering roads and fields.

GBU-99 Cluster Bombs
In this handout picture from the U.S. Navy made available Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2001, U.S. Navy crewmen prepare GBU-99 cluster bombs for transfer from the USS Theodore Roosevelt's hanger bay to the flight deck above the ship during Operation Enduring Freedom on Sunday Oct. 14, 2001. The U.S. Navy did not disclose the location of the ship at sea. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Jason Scarborough)
Official said the cluster bomb dropped on the Herat village had left a village strewn with deadly unexploded "bomblets." The official said eight people from the village had been killed in the American attack which leaves people trapped in their homes. UN staff has sought information from the US military about munitions dropped at the village of Shaker Qala, and other locations, said a UN spokesperson. "Vehicles and pushcarts took an unconfirmed number of casualties ... to the main hospital in Heart," she said. Cluster bombs are dropped in a casing which splits open in mid-air, scattering up to 200 bomblets the size of soft drink cans. They are used to destroy vehicles, to start fires and as an anti-personnel weapon.

Sometimes they descend with mini-parachutes designed to prevent explosion on impact, so that they deny the enemy the use of an area such as an airfield. Shaker Qala lies near a military camp. "The villagers have a lot to be afraid of, because these bomblets, if they did not explode, are very dangerous," Dan Kelly, manager of a UN mine removal program for Afghanistan, was quoted as saying by local media. "They can explode if the villagers so much as touch them."

The United Nations report of the cluster bomb - a weapon used by American forces in every war since Vietnam that has frequently caused civilian deaths - was the latest of a growing number of accounts of American bombs going astray and causing civilian casualties. At the United Nations briefing where the incident involving the cluster bomb was disclosed, spokesmen said the Taliban had moved six tanks into another village outside Herat after an American bombing raid during the weekend. Afghans reaching Quetta said two villagers had died when five of the six tanks were struck in a subsequent American attack.

A UN official Dan Kelly was quoted as saying that Afghan employees of the program in Herat had gone to Shaker Qala, the village where the cluster bomb hit, to place sandbags around the bomblets and to clear paths that would allow villagers to leave their homes. Kelly said the description of the bomblets given over the radio from Herat suggested that the bomb appeared to have been of a type designed to scatter bomblets over an area of 20 football fields.

He said that the bomblets, carried to the ground on small parachutes, contained a "shaped charge" capable of penetrating armored steel up to five inches thick. These bomblets, he said, are usually used for attacks on armored vehicles, troop concentrations, bunkers and other dispersed targets.

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But they are deadly even if they fall to the ground unexploded, because their small size and bright color make them intriguing to passers-by, especially children. In more than 20 years of war, thousands of Afghan children have been killed or maimed by bomblets left over from Soviet bombing of guerrilla groups in the 1980's.

Kelly appealed to the Pentagon to provide the United Nations with details of the payload, height and speed of the aircraft that dropped the cluster bomb. That would enable the mine-removal team to determine the "footprint" of the bomb and the area to search for the bomblets. With nearly 300 square miles of Afghanistan already taken up by uncleared minefields from the 22 years of Soviet military occupation and civil war, he said, "the last thing Afghanistan needs right now is more unexploded mines and bombs."

Since the American raids began 18 days ago, bombing mistakes have been reported almost daily. In one early case, a targeting error caused a bomb to strike a United Nations mine-removal office in Kabul, killing four Afghan employees. No confirmation of the two Herat strikes, the one involving the cluster bomb and the one near the mosque, was immediately available from the Pentagon, which has acknowledged several accidental strikes on civilian targets.

Cluster bombs dropped by US warplanes on a village in western Afghanistan killed nine civilians and forced the survivors to abandon their homes, the United Nations said Thursday here in Islamabad.

UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker told a press conference in Islamabad that eight people were killed straight away in Monday night's attack on the village near the city of Herat and a ninth was killed after picking up one of the bombs. Another 14 people were injured, she said, and 20 of the 45 houses in the village were partially or completely destroyed. Bunker said local staff from the UN demining program had visited the village -- which she identified as Shaker Qala -- after the attack.

"They reported that eight civilians were killed directly in the attack and that one civilian was killed -- as happens in these cases -- when he went to look at the object, touched it and it blew up," she said. "They have determined there were 45 homes in that village, 20 of the homes were partially or completely destroyed in the attack. "The rest of the population decided to voluntarily evacuate and have gone into Herat."

Bunker said the survivors were only able to leave the village after the deminers made a path with sandbags for boundaries so the people fleeing did not touch any of the remaining bombs. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund said as well as the immediate deadly impact of the bombs, many of them did not explode on impact and could kill innocent civilians years later.

"There's already a framework of international humanitarian law that is very clearly defined," Hossain told reporters in Islamabad. "Whoever is conducting those operations are under a legal obligation to comply." Hossain said international law stated maximum care must be taken to avoid civilian casualties and damage to non-combatants.

He said the UN would monitor the US-led forces to ensure their actions complied with international law. But he would not be drawn on whether the dropping of cluster bombs on Shaker Qala or other US air strike blunders that have killed civilians during the 19-day military campaign had breached international law.

According to earlier UN reports, a hospital and mosque in a military compound within one kilometer (mile) of Shaker Qala were also hit in the same series of raids. Bunker said Thursday the UN still stood by its reports, despite the United States refusing to acknowledge that the village, hospital or mosque had been hit. She said there were "casualties" from the attacks on the hospital and mosque, but was unable to give any more details .

Copyright 2001 The News International, Pakistan

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