Scores of nations began signing a treaty banning cluster bombs in a move that supporters hope will shame non-signers into action.
Nations sign cluster-bomb ban
Scores of nations began signing a treaty banning cluster bombs today in a move that supporters hope will shame the US, Russia and China and other non-signers into abandoning weapons blamed for maiming and killing civilians. Norway, which began the drive to ban cluster bombs 18 months ago, was the first to sign, followed by Laos and Lebanon, both hard-hit by the weapons. The Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said he expected about 100 of the world's 192 UN member nations to sign by the end of the conference tomorrow. He said 125 countries were represented, but not all would sign. Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles that scatter them over vast areas. Some fail to explode immediately. The unexploded bomblets can then lie dormant for years until they are disturbed, often by children attracted by their small size and bright colours. "Banning cluster bombs took too long. Too many people lost arms and legs," the Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg said as he opened the conference. Mr Stoltenberg said he lived in Yugoslavia as a child, when his father was stationed there as a diplomat. Thirty years later, after the Balkan wars of the 1990s, "the villages I remember from my childhood where children lived and played became littered with cluster munitions," Mr Stoltenberg said. Washington, Moscow and other non-signers say cluster bombs have legitimate military uses such as repelling advancing troop columns. But according to the group Handicap International, 98 per cent of cluster-bomb victims are civilians, and 27 per cent are children. The Bush administration has said that a comprehensive ban would hurt world security and endanger US military co-operation on humanitarian work with countries that sign the accord. "The cluster bomb treaty will save countless lives by stigmatising a weapon that kills civilians even after the fighting ends," said Steve Goose, arms director of Human Rights Watch. "President-elect Barack Obama should make joining the cluster ban treaty a top priority." In Jerusalem, the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said his government had decided not to join the treaty, and instead believes the issue of cluster bomb use should be addressed through the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons. "We're not participating in the Norwegian track because we don't think it can lead to any serious credible result," Mr Palmor said. Thomas Nash, coordinator of The Cluster Bomb Coalition, which helped develop the treaty, noted that 18 of 26 Nato countries are signing it including Britain, which is already destroying its stockpiles of what he called "Cold War weapons." Activists said ahead of the signing that they hope the treaty will pressure non-signers into shelving the weapons, as many did with landmines after a 1997 treaty banning them. The anti-cluster bomb campaign gathered momentum after Israel's month-long war against Hizbollah in 2006, when it scattered up to four million bomblets across Lebanon, according to UN figures.