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World News

U.N. sees chance for global ban on cluster bombs

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations sees renewed momentum for a global ban on cluster bombs as more than 100 nations -- but not the world’s top users and stockpilers -- gather in Dublin to finalize an anti-cluster munitions treaty.

A top U.N. official and diplomats from countries that support a ban say there is a good chance that the conference, which starts on Monday and runs through May 30, will end with the signing of a treaty outlawing cluster bombs.

“I see a momentum that warrants cautious optimism on what Dublin can bring about,” Ad Melkert, associate administrator of the U.N. Development Program, told Reuters.

There is an increasing “awareness that leaving so many devices spread around is taking away the peace from people after conflicts, particularly for children,” he 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.

The UNDP says cluster munitions have caused more than 13,000 confirmed injuries and deaths around the world, the vast majority of them in Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon.

The so-called Oslo process against the bombs began three years ago and is modelled on the campaign against anti-personnel land mines, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 and led to the 1999 Ottawa Treaty banning them.

Melkert said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was playing a key role in the Norwegian-led campaign against cluster bombs by actively advocating a ban.

U.S. OPPOSES BAN ON CLUSTER BOMBS

The top producers, users and stockpilers of cluster bombs -- the United States, Israel, China, Russia, India and Pakistan -- will skip the conference. But diplomats say Washington is encouraging allies to adopt positions that could lead to a watered-down treaty.

“It is regrettable that the U.S. and a handful of other states continue to insist on their need to use a weapon that the rest of world is banning,” said Steve Goose, director of the arms division at the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“But we believe that a strong new treaty will stigmatize cluster munitions to such a degree that it will be difficult for any country to use them without international condemnation,” he said.

Benjamin Chang, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said: “We are opposed to any ban on cluster munitions. We do not believe they are indiscriminate weapons.”

Melkert said there are billions of unused cluster munitions stockpiled by some 75 countries. Most of those countries are now backing a treaty banning such weapons.

But U.S. allies such as Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden are lobbying for the exclusion of some cluster bombs from the ban, diplomats said.

Some also are pushing for a transition period during which the devices could still be used and for deletion of a clause in the draft treaty -- approved in New Zealand this year -- that bars signatories from engaging in joint operations with countries actively using cluster munitions.

“As it stands, the draft treaty is a strong, comprehensive ban on cluster munitions. Any attempts to water it down should be rejected completely,” Goose said.

Editing by Xavier Briand

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