DUBLIN, Ireland - American activists and global victims of cluster bombs united Monday in a demand that governments - particularly the United States - ban the weapons because they kill and maim too many civilians. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was among those attending the talks in Dublin.
They made their appeal four days before negotiators from 110 governments are expected to unveil a treaty restricting the development, sale and use of cluster munitions. The pact would be formally signed in December in Norway.
Each cluster bomb drops dozens to hundreds of "bomblets," carpeting a target with explosions. Some fail to detonate on impact and instead explode when civilians stumble across them days to years later.
"There is no doubt that cluster munitions have some military utility. You could say the same of land mines. I suppose you could say the same of poison gas. But we do ban some weapons," said Leahy, who has led American efforts to outlaw cluster munitions and provide support to their civilian victims.
"Weapons that are inherently indiscriminate, whether by design or effect, should have no place in the 21st century," said Leahy, who in February led a successful push to ban U.S. exports of cluster bombs.
But the treaty talks, which began in Norway in February 2007 and moved to Dublin this month, do not involve the biggest makers and users of cluster bombs: the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan. Others who make the weapons, chiefly in Western Europe, are participating but seek exemptions for some of their own designs or delays in enforcing a ban.
One of the toughest points of debate is whether to include a rule forbidding treaty signatories from deploying their military forces alongside cluster bomb users - an idea that would primarily hamper cooperation with U.S. forces.
Jody Williams, a U.S. teacher who shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her role pursuing the treaty that outlawed land mines that year, said countries must commit themselves not to work jointly with U.S. forces if cluster bombs are part of the arsenal.
Otherwise, she said, allied troops could "actually call in strikes using the other guy's cluster weapons. That is morally reprehensible."
Leahy said he was disappointed that the Bush administration was ignoring the treaty talks. But he said the U.S. Department of Defense was planning to announce reforms soon to its policy on cluster bomb development and use.
"I am hopeful that it will at least be a step forward," he said of the planned reforms.
Those seeking to continue using the weapon in several countries argue they are designing "smarter" modern designs that hit targets more precisely and have self-destruct mechanisms if they fail to detonate on impact.
But a panel of cluster-bomb victims from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Lebanon, Serbia and Vietnam - many of them missing limbs or eyes - said the world should not seek to develop higher-tech cluster bombs. They shared a podium with Leahy and several other U.S. activists.
"Dropping a high number of bombs close to civilians is a criminal act. We don't need a smart bomb. We need smart and responsible governments," said Dejan Dikic, 41, a Serbian high school teacher who suffered leg wounds when a NATO cluster bomb was dropped on his hometown of Nis in May 1999.
© 2008 Associated Press