LIMA, Peru - An international conference seeking a global ban on cluster bombs opened in Lima Wednesday, with delegates pointing out that the victims are often children who pick up unexploded munitions years after the fighting has ended.
"We should be worried that most of those killed or maimed are innocent civilians, mainly children who don't know what wars are," Branislav Kapetanovic, himself a cluster bomb victim, said to loud applause from delegates representing some 70 countries.
The three-day conference aims at broadening support for an initiative launched in Oslo February, in which 46 countries called for an international treaty to eliminate the deadly munitions by 2008.
The munitions contain as many as hundreds of bomblets, also known as submunitions, which scatter over wide areas. Many of the bomblets do not explode on impact, and lie dormant for years or decades. In many cases, they blow up when children pick them up to play with them, delegates said.
"For children, these bombs might look like toys, and in some cases they look like bottles of perfume," said Gebran Soufan, who heads Lebanon's diplomatic mission in Geneva.
He cited the example of last year's Israeli invasion of Lebanon, saying that many bomblets are still scattered in parks, streets and near schools.
"It is estimated there are still 1.2 million unexploded cluster bombs in the south of Lebanon," said Soufan.
Cambodia's Sam Sotha told delegates his country remains littered with cluster bombs dropped by US forces during the 1970s, and children were often attracted by their shiny, toy-like appearance. He said 20 million cluster bombs had been dropped on the southeast Asian country.
Sotha insisted on the urgency of reaching a treaty banning production, sales, use and storage of the deadly weapons.
Jody Williams and five other female Nobel prize laureates hailed the Lima gathering.
"We applaud bold initiatives that tackle such issues -- and lend our full support to this new process determined to eliminate cluster munitions," Williams said in the Peruvian capital on Tuesday.
"While so many of the worlds arms cause so much human misery, cluster munitions deserve to be singled out as an especially pernicious weapon of ill repute."
"They have become synonymous with civilian casualties," the US Nobel laureate read from the statement signed by her and five women Nobel Peace Prize winners: Rigoberta Menchu (Guatemala-1992); Shirin Ebadi (Iran-2003); Wangari Maathai (Kenya-2004); Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire (Ireland-1976).
Williams, whose work to ban land mines garnered the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, represents the Cluster Munition Coalition, which urged South American governments to follow the example of their Central American counterparts who have already banned the weapons.
Argentina, Brazil and Chile currently manufacture cluster bombs in South America. While Argentina and Chile have sent representatives, Brazil has not.
China, Russia and the United States, the largest manufacturers of cluster bombs, oppose the ban.
At least 400 million people live in areas contaminated by unexploded bomblets weapons, according to groups supporting the proposed ban.
The bombs are largely found in the Middle East, where they are used by Israel; in southeast Asian countries, where the United States deployed them in the 1970s; and in the former Yugoslavia.
Copyright © 2007 AFP.