Georgia Admits Dropping Cluster Bombs, says Rights Group

Human Rights Watch says it has letter acknowledging use of cluster bombs near Russian border tunnel

Georgia has admitted dropping cluster bombs during its attempt to regain control of its breakaway province of South Ossetia, a human rights group said today.

Human Rights Watch said it had received a letter from the Georgian defence ministry acknowledging the use of M85 cluster bombs near the Roki tunnel that connects South Ossetia with Russia.

Georgia launched its ill-fated campaign to retake South Ossetia last month, prompting Russia to invade Georgia and occupy Georgian territory. Human Rights Watch has accused Russia of using cluster bombs in populated areas in Georgia, killing at least 11 civilians and injuring dozens.

The New York-based group last month called on Russia to immediately stop using cluster bombs, which 100 countries recently agreed to ban.

"Cluster bombs are indiscriminate killers that most nations have agreed to outlaw. Russia's use of this weapon is not only deadly to civilians, but also an insult to international efforts to avoid a global humanitarian disaster of the kind caused by landmines," Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, said recently.

The South Ossetia conflict was the first time cluster bombs were deployed since the Lebanon war in 2006, when M85s were used extensively by Israel against Hizbullah.

Cluster munitions, which contain dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions or bomblets, have been condemned because of their capacity to kill and maim civilians. Many do not immediately explode, causing civilian casualties for months or years to come.

In May, 107 nations agreed to a total ban on cluster munitions, but Russia did not take part in the talks. Russia was not part of the Oslo process launched in February 2007 to develop a new international treaty banning cluster munitions.

The convention on cluster munitions agreed in May comprehensively bans the use, production, trade and stockpiling of the weapon. It will be open for signature in Oslo on December 3.

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