Activists see strong cluster bomb ban this week

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Progress has been made towards agreeing a wide-ranging global ban on cluster munitions this week, though three of the most controversial issues are still unresolved, campaigners said on Monday.

An unexploded bomblet from cluster bombs dropped by Israeli forces during the conflict with Hezbollah lies on a road near a new Italian military base near the village of Maraka in southern Lebanon September 5, 2006. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Representatives of more than 100 nations are working on an agreement against the use of cluster munitions, although the United States, China and Russia are not participating. Opponents say cluster bombs are unreliable and indiscriminate.

“There is no question that we will have a treaty adopted on Friday, that it will be adopted by either all or all but a very small number of the 110 states who are here negotiating,” said Steve Goose of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The biggest breakthrough has been securing medical and “socio-economic” support for victims, campaigners said.

Work on provisions related to the clearance of contaminated areas has also progressed well, they said.

Cluster munitions open in mid-air and scatter as many as several hundred “bomblets” over wide areas. They often fail to explode, creating virtual mine fields that can kill or injure anyone who comes across them -- often curious children.

The conference has not yet agreed how inclusive the definition of cluster munitions should be and whether to grant a transition period before the treaty comes into full effect.

It is also debating whether to allow joint military operations with an allied state that is using the devices.

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.

Campaigners say typical United Nations peacekeeping missions would not be affected by a treaty.

They accuse the U.S. of pushing allies such as Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Australia to oppose their proposal.

“I know that the British government is one of the ones that are a bit iffy,” said Alfred Dubs, a member of Britain’s House of Lords. “I’ve been told to be here and keep an eye on them.”

Jody Williams, who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work on a landmines ban, says without the clause there would be “a loophole big enough to fly a U.S. attack helicopter” through.

France said on Friday that the talks were going well and announced it would withdraw a type of munition that accounted for 90 percent of its cluster bomb stocks.

The 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 as late as 2006.