ICRC hails landmark ban on cluster munitions

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The Red Cross on Thursday hailed a landmark treaty banning cluster munitions which comes into force over the weekend and urged more countries to help stop the weapons killing civilians.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which has so far been signed by 107 states, will enter into force on Sunday, some six months after more than 30 countries ratified the treaty, which was concluded in 2008.

The treaty prohibits the countries that have ratified it from using, producing and stockpiling the weapons.

Cluster bombs, or shells, open before impact and scatter multiple -- often hundreds -- of small submunitions, or bomblets, over a wide area.

Many of them fail to explode immediately and can lie dormant for several years, killing or maiming hundreds of civilians, often long after conflicts ended in regions such as Indochina, the Balkans, and southern Lebanon.

Often the casualties are children who picked up the munitions when they found them.

"This is a milestone in the fight against the use of cluster munitions and should put an end to decades of suffering for men, women and children," International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Jakob Kellenberger said in a statement.

"We take this opportunity to call on all states party to the convention to start implementing it without delay," he added.

The signatories include producer nations with military stockpiles of more than 100 million of the bomblets such as Britain, Germany, and France.

It also includes victims such as Laos, where people are still being killed or maimed by shells dating back to the Vietnam War era according to the Cluster Munition Coalition.

"In Laos every year on average 300 people are killed or injured by cluster bombs and these are cluster bombs that are there from a conflict that ended over 30 years ago, a generation ago," coalition coordinator Thomas Nash told journalists.

In southern Lebanon, for three months after the end of the 2006 conflict with Israel, three people were killed on average by cluster bomblets every day, he added.

Major military powers however, including China, Russia, the United States and Israel, which are thought to account for the huge bulk of the estimated one billion bomblet global stockpile, have rejected the treaty so far.

"We will be watching and we're calling on countries that haven't yet signed to join this treaty without delay, and in particular countries affected like Cambodia, Vietnam, Serbia and Tajikistan... that stand to gain a lot," said Nash.

© 2010 AFP

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