UN bans use of cluster bombs

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THE United Nations has passed a convention banning cluster bombs, the controversial weapon that opponents claim cause indiscriminate civilian casualties in old war zones.

The ban, which comes into force on 1 August, follows a global campaign against the munitions: the production, stockpiling and use of cluster bombs will be prohibited, and it obliges states that have used them to compensate victims.

Designed as an anti-personnel weapon and either air dropped or fired by artillery, cluster bombs scatter hundreds of bomblets over a wide area in order to inflict widespread casualties. But they have a poor reputation for reliability, with many of the small bombs remaining active for years.

Handicap International, a group on the forefront of the campaign to ban the weapons, claims that civilians represent 98 per cent of all casualties caused by cluster bombs, and nearly a third are children.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon welcomed the ratification, saying it demonstrates the world's collective revulsion at the impact of these terrible weapons.

Steve Goose, the chairman of Cluster Munitions Coalition, which has led the campaign against the weapons, praised the conventions passing.

"Cluster munitions are already stigmatised to the point that no nation should ever use them again, even those who have not yet joined the convention," he said.

But while 104 nations, including the UK, have signed the convention, so far it applies only to the 30 states that have ratified it. Its influence has been further diluted by the refusal of the United States and Israel, two states that use cluster munitions, to sign up.

Campaigners hope that the new treaty's ratification will pile pressure on cluster-bomb users to sign the convention.