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Agence France Presse

Observers Praise Cluster Bomb Ban But Questions Remain


DUBLIN - A landmark agreement on a treaty to ban cluster bombs was welcomed by politicians and campaigners Thursday but some questioned how effective it can be without backing from key powers like the US and China.

After 10 days of painstaking negotiations at Croke Park stadium in Dublin, diplomats agreed Wednesday the wording of a pact to outlaw the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who agreed to scrap cluster bombs shortly before the agreement was reached, said the treaty, due to be signed in Oslo in December, would be "a major breakthrough".

The agreement was reached by delegates from 111 countries but there are several notable absentees from the list of supporters.

"We must be clear about the fact that this agreement will be merely a step forward; it must not be regarded as the final destination," Britain's Independent newspaper said in an editorial.

"The most glaring problem is that the United States, China, Russia, Pakistan, India and Israel have not signed the treaty.

"If the largest militaries on the planet refuse to curb their stockpiles of these weapons, what real good can it do?"

Cluster munitions are among the weapons posing the gravest dangers to civilians, especially in heavily bombed countries like Laos, Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Dropped from planes or fired from artillery, they explode in mid-air, randomly scattering bomblets. Countries are seeking a ban due to the risk of civilians being killed or maimed by their indiscriminate, wide area effect.

They also pose a lasting threat to civilians as many bomblets fail to explode on impact.

The treaty requires the destruction of stockpiled munitions within eight years -- though it leaves the door open for future, more precise generations of cluster munitions that pose less harm to civilians.

Britain is set to ask the US to remove cluster bombs stockpiled at its military bases on its territory in the wake of the agreement, the Guardian newspaper reported.

The treaty was welcomed by the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), an umbrella group of non-governmental organisations, which hopes it will stigmatise cluster munitions, as the similar Ottawa Treaty did for landmines.

CMC co-chair Simon Conway told AFP the treaty was a compromise but nonetheless "incredibly strong".

"We're going to end up with a strong treaty that prohibits every cluster bomb that's ever been used, with no transition periods, with strong obligations on clearance and particularly strong obligations on victim assistance," he said.

Hildegarde Vansintjan, advocacy officer for disability campaigners Handicap International, said the convention made states responsible for providing assistance to cluster bomb victims.

The treaty "would be a real step forward for the people suffering from cluster munitions all over the world," she told AFP.

The cluster munitions ban process, started by Norway in February 2007, took the same path as the 1997 Ottawa Treaty by going outside the United Nations to avoid vetoes and seal a swift pact.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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