Published on Tuesday, September 5, 2000 by the Associated Press
Red Cross Urges Cluster Bomb Halt
by Alexander G. Higgins
GENEVA –– The Red Cross is urging governments to suspend the use of cluster bombs – like those NATO dropped on Kosovo last year – because they can kill and maim long after a war ends, an official said Tuesday.

A new study by the International Committee of the Red Cross found that, compared with land mines, those injured or killed by cluster bombs were 4.9 times as likely to be children under the age of 14.

The 50-page report focused on the aftermath of NATO's 78-day bombing of the Yugoslav province of Kosovo.

Children are especially at risk because the bombs are usually an eye-catching yellow with little parachutes attached, said Peter Herby, an ICRC specialist.

"People think they are duds because they didn't go off at first, but they are highly unstable and can be set off easily," Herby added.

The ICRC found that cluster bombs killed 50 people and injured 101 in Kosovo during the first year after the bombing ended in June 1999, the report said.

By contrast, land mines, mainly left by Serb forces, killed 30 people and wounded 169.

Victims of land mines often survive, although they may lose feet or legs, but cluster bombs generally kill anyone near them when they explode.

Herby said the ICRC, charged with enforcing the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war, has sent governments its study with an appeal for a new international law on the weapon.

"The use of cluster bombs should be suspended until an international agreement on their use and clearance has been achieved," said a message to diplomats in Geneva.

Although cluster bombs were used in the Gulf War and the Indochina war in Laos, Kosovo provided the Red Cross with its first chance to study their long-term impact, Herby said.

A single cluster-bomb canister, dropped to destroy airfields or tanks and soldiers, typically scatters 200 to 600 bomblets over an area the size of a football field.

On average 10 to 15 percent of the bomblets fail to explode immediately, but for decades they can be detonated by the slightest disturbance, even a change in the weather, Herby said.

Clearing cluster bombs is more dangerous than clearing mines, he added. Even a two-way radio signal between clearers can set off cluster bomblets.

The report estimated that 30,000 cluster bomblets remained after the Kosovo conflict. U.N.-supervised clearers had removed 4,069 by the end of May, it said.

The U.N. operation also reported the clearance of 3,448 anti-personnel mines, 3,784 anti-tank mines and 6,639 other unexploded ordnance.

The ICRC also urged governments to ban the use of cluster bombs against military targets in populated areas and require those who use cluster bombs to clear them afterward.

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press


See also:

Cluster Bombs: The Hidden Toll - Manchester Guardian 8/8/2000

U.N. Aide in Kosovo Faults NATO on Unexploded Bombs - NY Times 5/23/00

Cluster Munitions as Inhumane and Indiscriminate Weapons - Mennonite Central Committee