A 48-nation meeting called by Norway in a drive to ban cluster bombs opens in Oslo on Thursday, despite being snubbed by the United States, Russia and China.
Norway hopes to initiate a worldwide drive against cluster bombs similar to the one banning anti-personnel mines, negotiated in Oslo in 1997.
Silhouettes representing the 2,982 children confirmed killed by by cluster bombs that exploded long after wars in their countries ended, crowd a snowy square outside the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007. A 48-nation meeting called by Norway in a drive to ban cluster bombs opens in Oslo on Thursday, despite being snubbed by the United States, Russia and China. Norway hopes to initiate a worldwide drive against cluster bombs similar to the one banning anti-personnel mines, negotiated in Oslo in 1997. (AP Photo/Doug Mellgren)
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere called the Oslo meeting of governments and activist groups because arms talks in Geneva in November failed to move towards banning the weapons.
Activists say key powers, including United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Japan, oppose separate negotiations and claim the weapons are covered under the 1980 U.N. Convention on Conventional Weapons, known as CCW.
At a meeting of non-governmental organizations ahead of the main conference, Steve Goose, executive Director of the Human Rights Watch Group, said the Oslo meetings must lead to a new path outside the stalled CCW.
"This meeting is mainly about consolidating political will. It is not about drafting a treaty," Goose said Wednesday. "It is about establishing a momentum ... The best outcome is agreement on a declaration."
Simon Conway, of the Britain's Landmine Action group, said some countries attending the conference may seek to weaken the one-page draft declaration by demanding postponement of its treaty target date of 2008.
Cluster bomblets are packed into artillery shells, bombs or missiles, which scatter hundreds of the mini-explosives over vast areas, with some failing to explode and endangering civilians years after conflicts end.
The Cluster Munition Coalition, a campaign group co-hosting Wednesday's civilian forum, said as many as 60 percent of the victims in Southeast Asia are children. It said the weapons have recently been used Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Lebanon, and that billions are stockpiled worldwide.
"It is about human suffering. ... People are killed long after a conflict," said Thomas Nash, coordinator for the coalition. "'What we have here in Oslo is a historical process that could lead to a treaty."
The U.N. has estimated that Israel dropped as many as 4 million of the bomblets in southern Lebanon during the recent armed conflict there, with as many 40 percent failing to explode on impact.
Children can be attracted to the unexploded weapons by their small size and shape and bright colors, the groups said.
Goose drew parallels to the 1997 drive to ban anti-personnel mines, saying, "There are a lot of similarities. We have a committed group of small and medium sized nations working with non-governmental groups. They are willing to move forward on the issue."
The United States, Russia and China, still refuse to sign the pact on the use of landmines.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press