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Delegates at Cluster Bomb Conference Hope for Decisive Action


The New Zealand government says a disarmament meeting going on in the country will be a crucial step in establishing a meaningful ban on cluster bombs. The weapons have killed tens of thousands of people in conflicts around the world, and activists say they primarily harm civilians. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

This is the biggest disarmament conference ever held in New Zealand.

It brings together representatives from more than 120 governments as well as activists and survivors of cluster bomb explosions.

Cluster bombs explode in the air, dropping hundreds of small bomblets that explode on the ground. But many of the small bombs do not explode immediately. Instead, they lie in fields or villages, where later they kill and maim people who come across them.

The United Nations estimates that 40 percent of the victims of cluster bombs are children.

The five-day meeting in Wellington is to smooth progress toward signing a global ban later this year. It is part of the Oslo Process, which began last year with various countries agreeing to fight for a ban on cluster bombs.

Hilde Johnson, the deputy director of UNICEF, opened the conference by saying cluster bombs have inflicted terrible damage around the world.

"It is absolutely terrible. It has horrendous effects," said Johnson. "Cluster bombs of this nature have been dropped and are in over 25 countries around the world. Lebanon is one. There are other such countries such as Sudan, Chad, Albania, Afghanistan, Iraq - everywhere almost where there is war."

However, countries that are major producers of cluster munitions or have large stockpiles of them are not attending the meeting.

They include the United States, Israel, Russia and China.

Other countries such as France, Japan and the United Kingdom have used diplomatic pressure to weaken the draft treaty being negotiated.

Despite these obstacles, the New Zealand government remains optimistic that international pressure will eventually lead to a worldwide ban.

The minister for Disarmament and Arms Control, Phil Goff, says the conference will be a pivotal step toward establishing a meaningful accord.

The treaty under debate seeks to outlaw cluster bombs that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. It also proposes that a country that uses these weapons in a conflict would be responsible for disposing of them at the end of hostilities.

It is estimated that a million cluster bombs were dropped by Israel during its 34-day war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in 2006.

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