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Main Users of Cluster Bombs Fail to Agree Pact


An unexploded cluster bomb found in a suburb of Najaf, April 27, 2003. (REUTERS/Ruben Sprich)

GENEVA - Big producers or users of cluster bombs,
including the United States, China and Russia, have failed to win
backing for a pact that would phase out some types of the munitions,
diplomats and activists said on Friday.

Failure of the negotiations in Geneva left an international treaty
that would ban the weapons entirely, to be signed by more than 100
countries in Oslo on Dec. 3, as "the only game in town", activists said.

Big producers or users sought an accord as an alternative to the
Oslo treaty. They are still unlikely to sign up to the treaty next
month, but its existence will start to apply moral pressure
discouraging use of cluster bombs, activists said.

Cluster bombs, extensively used in the Vietnam war, can spread
hundreds of bomblets over a target area. Many of these fail to explode
immediately, posing a threat to civilians for many years after a

Campaigners say they have killed or maimed tens of thousands of
civilians including some in Georgia's conflict with Russia in August.

"The treaty to be signed in Oslo next month is the only way to make
sure there is no more use, production or transfer of these
indiscriminate killers," said Thomas Nash, coordinator of the Cluster
Munition Coalition.

The Geneva talks were aimed at updating a 1981 convention on
exceptionally dangerous conventional weapons. Proposals under
discussion would have given countries 13 to 20 years to phase out some
cluster munitions, while allowing them to use, produce, stockpile and
trade the rest, activists said.

"Our failure is all the more disappointing because the opportunity
to agree to a protocol that would have had substantial humanitarian
benefits was within our grasp," Stephen Mathias, head of the U.S.
delegation to the Geneva talks, said in a statement.

Israel, India, Pakistan and South Korea were among other countries
seeking an alternative agreement to Oslo, according to activists.

"It is expected that the continued stigmatisation of this weapon
around the world will accelerate with the widespread signature of the
treaty in Oslo and that this will eventually lead to a vast reduction
in its use, production and transfer, even by the limited group of
states remaining outside its legal norms," the Cluster Munitions
Coalition said in a statement.


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