Nations Prepare to Ban Cluster Bombs, which have Killed Civilians from Vietnam to Georgia

Published on
by
The Associated Press

Nations Prepare to Ban Cluster Bombs, which have Killed Civilians from Vietnam to Georgia

by
Matt Siegel

PKHEVISI, Georgia - When August's fighting surrounded her
cottage in this quiet village, Tamuna Kitiashvili fled to the Georgian
capital with her husband and 3-year-old daughter.

They returned
to find their home covered in what looked like flashlight batteries.
The metal cylinders crashed through the roof and lodged in the
floorboards. More lay scattered in the garden where they grow
vegetables.

The cylinders were deadly cluster bomblets designed
to tear apart tank armor - but which more often end up maiming or
killing children. Representatives from more than 100 nations gather in
Oslo, Norway on Wednesday to sign a historic accord barring their use.

Georgia
was the latest country to fall under the plague of cluster bombs as war
broke out with Russia over the breakaway province of South Ossetia, but
the munitions have long been a scourge of wartorn places from Angola to
Afghanistan.

Most of the munitions scattered around
Kitiashvili's home have been cleared, but she still lives in terror of
sporadic explosions that go off at night. "Who knows what could
happen?" asks the 22-year-old mother, holding onto her daughter tightly.

Although
activists are hailing the cluster bombs convention as a landmark
achievement, the refusal of the world's two largest producers of the
munitions - the United States and Russia - to sign on will limit its
effect.

"These two countries seem to have a bit of an allergy to
international law in general," said Thomas Nash, coordinator of The
Cluster Bomb Coalition. "Of course, we're always disappointed that
these countries choose not to be a part of the international legal
framework."

Washington and Moscow say cluster bombs have legitimate military uses such as repelling advancing troop columns.

Stephen
Mull, an assistant U.S. secretary of state, told reporters in May that
a comprehensive ban would hurt world security and endanger U.S.
military cooperation on humanitarian work with countries that sign the
accord.

Cluster bomblets are packed into artillery shells or
into bombs to be dropped from aircraft. Each container - which might be
used to destroy an airfield or to attack massed infantry and tanks -
typically scatters some 200 to 600 of mini-explosives over an area the
size of a football field.

The weapon, a descendant of the
"butterfly bomb" dropped by Nazi Germany on Britain in World War II,
was first used by the U.S. in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

Similar
cluster bombs were used by Soviet and Russian troops in Angola,
Afghanistan and Chechnya, where leftover duds still inflict casualties.

Children
are often attracted to these unexploded munitions, many of them shiny
metal objects the size of toys, sometimes attached to little parachutes.

The
types of injuries inflicted by the weapons are horrific, more often
than not leaving the victim alive but horribly disfigured.

Images
of young children hobbling along on prosthetic legs or lacking arms
below the elbow are commonly associated with the aftermath of an
encounter with cluster munitions.

The anti-cluster campaign
gathered momentum after Israel's month-long war against Hezbollah in
2006, when it scattered up to 4 million cluster bomblets across
Lebanon, according to U.N. figures. In May, more than 100 countries
agreed in Dublin, Ireland, to ban cluster bombs within eight years.

The
issue gained new urgency after cluster bombs were used in the Georgia
conflict. After Tbilisi launched an offensive to seize control of South
Ossetia, Russian tanks and troops counter-attacked, and pushed deep
into Georgian territory.

More than 100,000 people have been
killed or wounded by cluster bombs worldwide since 1965, one-third of
them children, said Cluster Bomb Coalition spokeswoman Natalie Curtis.
She said reliable annual casualty statistics are difficult track down.

At
least 25 people - including Dutch journalist Stan Storimans - have been
killed so far by cluster munitions since the war's outbreak on Aug. 7,
according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

The comprehensive
ban - like those against biological and chemical weapons - will bar
signatories from deploying the bombs or engaging in joint military
operations with armies who use them.

Russia has denied using
cluster bombs in the Georgia conflict, but human rights groups say both
sides unleashed the weapons. Georgia has acknowledged using
ground-launched cluster munitions near the Roki Tunnel, which connects
Russia with South Ossetia.

But a walk through the sprawling
Georgian countryside just south of the South Ossetian capital,
Tskhinvali, leaves little room for doubt that both sides deployed the
weapons liberally in civilian areas.

With winter fast
approaching this mountainous country, desperate villagers - having
already lost the bulk of their harvest to the war - are returning to
some of the most heavily affected areas in search of apples to sell at
market.

They work in the fields alongside scores of de-mining
teams, which are carrying out the delicate work of extracting live
munitions in civilian areas.

As in most places affected by
cluster munitions, the main danger posed to civilians doesn't come in
the initial deployment, but rather after the fighting ends and people
begin to return home, said Ollie Pile, an operations manager with
de-mining charity The Halo Trust in Georgia.

The munitions were
designed to be used against large numbers of troops and armor moving in
formation on a battlefield - the sort of warfare envisioned by both the
U.S. and Soviet Union, he said.

But that kind of warfare has become obsolete, he said, and cluster munitions have outlived their purpose.

"I
find it kind of hard to justify their use in this kind of environment,"
the Iraq War veteran said wearily, driving his jeep along a heavily
rutted road as children gathered to wave at the vehicle from the very
fields the group is working to clear.

PKHEVISI, Georgia (AP) _ When August's fighting surrounded her
cottage in this quiet village, Tamuna Kitiashvili fled to the Georgian
capital with her husband and 3-year-old daughter.

They returned
to find their home covered in what looked like flashlight batteries.
The metal cylinders crashed through the roof and lodged in the
floorboards. More lay scattered in the garden where they grow
vegetables.

The cylinders were deadly cluster bomblets designed
to tear apart tank armor - but which more often end up maiming or
killing children. Representatives from more than 100 nations gather in
Oslo, Norway on Wednesday to sign a historic accord barring their use.

Georgia
was the latest country to fall under the plague of cluster bombs as war
broke out with Russia over the breakaway province of South Ossetia, but
the munitions have long been a scourge of wartorn places from Angola to
Afghanistan.

Most of the munitions scattered around
Kitiashvili's home have been cleared, but she still lives in terror of
sporadic explosions that go off at night. "Who knows what could
happen?" asks the 22-year-old mother, holding onto her daughter tightly.

Although
activists are hailing the cluster bombs convention as a landmark
achievement, the refusal of the world's two largest producers of the
munitions - the United States and Russia - to sign on will limit its
effect.

"These two countries seem to have a bit of an allergy to
international law in general," said Thomas Nash, coordinator of The
Cluster Bomb Coalition. "Of course, we're always disappointed that
these countries choose not to be a part of the international legal
framework."

Washington and Moscow say cluster bombs have legitimate military uses such as repelling advancing troop columns.

Stephen
Mull, an assistant U.S. secretary of state, told reporters in May that
a comprehensive ban would hurt world security and endanger U.S.
military cooperation on humanitarian work with countries that sign the
accord.

Cluster bomblets are packed into artillery shells or
into bombs to be dropped from aircraft. Each container - which might be
used to destroy an airfield or to attack massed infantry and tanks -
typically scatters some 200 to 600 of mini-explosives over an area the
size of a football field.

The weapon, a descendant of the
"butterfly bomb" dropped by Nazi Germany on Britain in World War II,
was first used by the U.S. in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

Similar
cluster bombs were used by Soviet and Russian troops in Angola,
Afghanistan and Chechnya, where leftover duds still inflict casualties.

Children
are often attracted to these unexploded munitions, many of them shiny
metal objects the size of toys, sometimes attached to little parachutes.

The
types of injuries inflicted by the weapons are horrific, more often
than not leaving the victim alive but horribly disfigured.

Images
of young children hobbling along on prosthetic legs or lacking arms
below the elbow are commonly associated with the aftermath of an
encounter with cluster munitions.

The anti-cluster campaign
gathered momentum after Israel's month-long war against Hezbollah in
2006, when it scattered up to 4 million cluster bomblets across
Lebanon, according to U.N. figures. In May, more than 100 countries
agreed in Dublin, Ireland, to ban cluster bombs within eight years.

The
issue gained new urgency after cluster bombs were used in the Georgia
conflict. After Tbilisi launched an offensive to seize control of South
Ossetia, Russian tanks and troops counter-attacked, and pushed deep
into Georgian territory.

More than 100,000 people have been
killed or wounded by cluster bombs worldwide since 1965, one-third of
them children, said Cluster Bomb Coalition spokeswoman Natalie Curtis.
She said reliable annual casualty statistics are difficult track down.

At
least 25 people - including Dutch journalist Stan Storimans - have been
killed so far by cluster munitions since the war's outbreak on Aug. 7,
according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

The comprehensive
ban - like those against biological and chemical weapons - will bar
signatories from deploying the bombs or engaging in joint military
operations with armies who use them.

Russia has denied using
cluster bombs in the Georgia conflict, but human rights groups say both
sides unleashed the weapons. Georgia has acknowledged using
ground-launched cluster munitions near the Roki Tunnel, which connects
Russia with South Ossetia.

But a walk through the sprawling
Georgian countryside just south of the South Ossetian capital,
Tskhinvali, leaves little room for doubt that both sides deployed the
weapons liberally in civilian areas.

With winter fast
approaching this mountainous country, desperate villagers - having
already lost the bulk of their harvest to the war - are returning to
some of the most heavily affected areas in search of apples to sell at
market.

They work in the fields alongside scores of de-mining
teams, which are carrying out the delicate work of extracting live
munitions in civilian areas.

As in most places affected by
cluster munitions, the main danger posed to civilians doesn't come in
the initial deployment, but rather after the fighting ends and people
begin to return home, said Ollie Pile, an operations manager with
de-mining charity The Halo Trust in Georgia.

The munitions were
designed to be used against large numbers of troops and armor moving in
formation on a battlefield - the sort of warfare envisioned by both the
U.S. and Soviet Union, he said.

But that kind of warfare has become obsolete, he said, and cluster munitions have outlived their purpose.

"I
find it kind of hard to justify their use in this kind of environment,"
the Iraq War veteran said wearily, driving his jeep along a heavily
rutted road as children gathered to wave at the vehicle from the very
fields the group is working to clear.

 

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