cluster bomb 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Forty-six nations adopted a declaration Friday calling for a 2008 treaty banning cluster bombs, saying the weapons which kill and maim long after conflicts end inflict "unacceptable harm" on civilians.
Some key arms makers, including the US, Russia, Israel and China, snubbed the conference of 49 nations. Of those attending, Poland, Romania and Japan did not approve the final text.
But organizers said the declaration was needed despite the absence of key nations to avoid a potential humanitarian disaster posed by unexploded cluster munitions.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said the conference surpassed expectations.
"We are now ready to move ahead towards an international ban on cluster munitions," he said.
The weapons have recently been used Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the campaign group said. The UN estimated that Israel dropped as many as four million bomblets in southern Lebanon during last year's war with Hizbullah, with as many 40 percent failing to explode on impact.
"Israel used no munitions that were outlawed by international treaties or international law" in the Lebanon conflict, said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. He said that if the declaration ever evolves into a treaty, then Israel would examine it and then decide how to respond.
Norway hopes the treaty would be similar to one outlawing anti-personnel mines, negotiated in Oslo in 1997.
While the document is nonbinding, organizers and activists hope it will pressure nations into halting the use of cluster bombs by stigmatizing the weapons.
Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen said countries such as Japan, Poland and Romania, like the key arms makers, question the need for talks outside the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons, or CCW process. He said it was not the intent of the Oslo meeting to undermine that effort, but to push the process forward.
The US, China and Russia have refused to sign the land mine treaty and oppose the Norwegian initiative on cluster bombs. They did not send representatives to the meeting. Australia, Israel, India and Pakistan also did not attend.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said cluster bombs "do have a place and a use in military inventories," and that the US had spent about US$1 billion (â‚¬760 million) over the past decade or so to help clean up unexploded munitions in East Asia, Southeast Europe and the Middle East.
"We have taken very seriously the international discussion with respect to the threat posed by unexploded ordnance to innocent civilians," McCormack said.
Nevertheless, activists said they were pleased by the outcome of the Oslo meeting, especially with skeptical countries such as Germany, Britain and Canada accepting the declaration.