Cluster Bomb Ban Talks Open in
Agence France Presse., December
Representatives from over 130 countries
met here Wednesday in an effort to ban cluster bombs, which continue
to maim and kill civilians worldwide through scattered bomblets
that can explode years after they were dropped.
"The presence today of over two thirds
of countries in the world is in itself a strong and encouraging
sign. It's a significant push towards awareness" of the problem,
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said at the start of
the three-day meeting in Vienna.
The conference, organised by the Cluster
Munition Coalition (CMC), is part of a Norwegian initiative launched
in February when states agreed to conclude a new international
ban treaty to be signed by 2008.
Some 83 nations have voiced their support
for the move, but key countries such as China, Russia and the
United States -- the main makers of such munitions -- remain opposed
to an outright ban.
Plassnik, who received a petition with
some 1.5 million signatures calling for the complete ban of cluster
bombs, described the document as "a clear and unmistakable
message: ban cluster munitions!"
Cluster bombs are especially deadly as
they contain smaller bomblets which they scatter over a wide area
and which sometimes explode only decades after a conflict has
No figures are available on how many people
have been maimed or killed by cluster munitions, but the non-governmental
organisation Handicap International estimates about 98 percent
of victims are civilians, usually children.
These weapons were used last year during
the war in Lebanon and are still being used in Iraq today. They
have also made many victims in Laos, where US troops dropped some
208 million cluster bombs between 1969 and 1973, Afghanistan and
in the Balkans.
"All kinds of cluster munitions,
no matter how sophisticated, are deadly. Everyone can become a
victim," said for Sladan Vuckovic, a Serb who lost both his
arms and part of one leg while trying to remove the remaining
bombs from his land.
He was one of several cluster bomb victims
who made it to the conference Wednesday in a wheelchair or with
the help of synthetic limbs to testify about the damage done by
Austria is due Thursday to become the
second country after Belgium to ban cluster munitions, with the
adoption by parliament of a law, while Defence Minister Norbert
Darabos has promised to destroy some 12,000 bombs stocked on Austrian
territory within three years.
Human rights activist and former wife
of the Rolling Stones' lead singer Bianca Jagger praised Austria's
move and said she hoped "that other countries will follow
CMC, which consists of about 200 civil
society organisations, estimates that at least 34 countries continue
to produce cluster munitions, while 75 states have a significant
stock in their possession.
Among the topics on the agenda at the
Vienna conference are a definition of cluster munitions, the need
to destroy stockpiles and aid to victims.
But France and Germany want to include
exemptions in a draft treaty that was drawn up in Lima in May
and is to be finalised in Vienna.
Another conference is planned in Wellington,
in New Zealand in February, followed by a final one in Dublin
in May, ahead of the planned signature of the treaty at the end
of the year.
Landmine & Cluster Bomb watch