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Agence France Presse

Bulk of States Back Cluster Bomb Ban, Organisers Say


A key conference on cluster bombs ended Friday in Wellington with most of the 122 governments represented backing a draft treaty banning the deadly weapons, organisers said.0222 03

However, major countries such as China, Russia and the United States -- the main manufacturers of the munitions -- remain opposed to an outright ban and did not attend the meeting.

The five-day conference was one of a series held as part of a Norwegian initiative launched in February 2007 which it is hoped will culminate with the creation of a treaty in Dublin in May banning the weapons.

The conference was supported by the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC), a global network of 200 civil society organisations that includes the leaders of the Nobel peace prize-winning international Campaign to Ban Landmines.

The coalition said by late Friday, 82 states had signed the so-called "Wellington Declaration", which will allow further negotiation of the draft treaty to ban cluster bombs, assist survivors and clear land.

The declaration says cluster bombs cause unacceptable harm to civilians and their use, production and transfer must be banned. It calls for a framework so that survivors of cluster bombs are provided with care and rehabilitation.

New Zealand Defence Minister Phil Goff said he expected more of the states present at the meeting to eventually endorse the draft by the meeting in May.

"We anticipate the overwhelming majority of states that attended will sign up to the draft," said Goff.

Cluster bombs are especially deadly as they contain smaller bomblets, which scatter over a wide area and can explode decades after a conflict has ended, killing and maiming civilians.

Earlier this week the coalition accused nine governments that subsequently signed the draft -- Japan, Australia, Finland, France, Holland, Germany, Britain, Denmark and Spain -- of trying to weaken the statement to allow the United States to use the controversial weapons.

It said the US allies were concerned that if they signed the new treaty it would be hard for them to participate in joint military operations with other countries not party to it.

"Attempts by certain countries to dilute and insert exceptions to the draft treaty were unsuccessful, but will be considered in a compendium to the draft during negotiations in Dublin," coalition coordinator Thomas Nash said.

"The strong text of the treaty remains unchanged."

New Zealand is one of six governments leading the process, along with Austria, Ireland, Mexico, Norway and Peru, which is hoped will end with the signing of the final treaty in Oslo in December.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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