May 28, 2008 / 2:04 PM / 11 years ago

Britain backs treaty to ban cluster bombs

(Adds comments from British negotiator, background)

LONDON, May 28 (Reuters) - Britain proposed on Wednesday to end the use of cluster bombs by its armed forces, saying it wanted a planned international convention outlawing the munitions to be as strong as possible.

Britain’s main negotiator at a meeting of more than 100 nations in Ireland trying to reach agreement on the new treaty told BBC radio the negotiations "could close" late on Wednesday, though two issues still needed to be finalised.

Cluster munitions open in mid-air and scatter as many as several hundred "bomblets" over a wide area. They often fail to explode, creating virtual mine fields that can kill or injure anyone who finds them later — often curious children.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been pushing his reluctant military leaders to ban the use of the munitions and ordered a Ministry of Defence review earlier this month.

"In order to secure as strong a convention as possible, in the last hours of negotiation we have issued instructions that we should support a ban on all cluster bombs, including those currently in service by the UK," Brown said in a statement. Britain’s ambassador for multilateral arms control and disarmament, John Duncan, said the statement reflected Brown’s commitment to dealing with the issue.

"We now have a basic text which identifies those weapons of concern and the prime minister has decided that those in the UK army should be withdrawn from service," he told BBC radio.

Two issues to be resolved are whether the United States could still stockpile cluster bombs on bases in Britain, and whether signatories to the new treaty could take part in operations with forces that still used cluster bombs.

The United States said last week that the treaty could jeopardise U.S. participation in joint peacekeeping and disaster relief operations because most U.S. military units have these kinds of weapons in their inventories.

Duncan said the text on this — known as interoperability — needed to be finalised and the question of U.S. forces stockpiling cluster bombs in Britain also needed resolving.

"The current text says that stockpiling should end after eight years. Obviously we will continue to talk closely with our American allies and find a solution to this," he said.

More than 100 nations are taking part in the Dublin summit, but the United States, China and Russia — three leading military powers — are not.

Cluster bombs can be dropped from aircraft or fired in missiles or artillery shells and have been used in conflicts including Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, the Balkans and by Israel in southern Lebanon in 2006. (Reporting by David Clarke, Editing by Tim Pearce)

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