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Red Cross Urges Ban on Cluster Munitions

The International Committee of the Red Cross is appealing to governments to stop using cluster weapons that, it says, have killed and maimed tens of thousands of civilians during the past 40 years. The ICRC is calling for a legally binding treaty to prohibit the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Cluster bombs were first introduced in World War II. The Red Cross says these weapons have been failing on a massive scale since then. It notes unexploded cluster bombs kill and injure more people after, than during a war.

And, it says this cycle repeats itself with every new war in which cluster munitions are used. Head of the ICRC arms unit, Peter Herby, says most of the current stockpiles held by more than 70 countries are relics of the cold war and should be destroyed.

"We presented the problem to governments that large numbers of people are being killed year after year, decade after decade from the use of a weapon, which is inaccurate, unreliable and used in massive numbers," Herby said. "So, we say you have to solve these problems by prohibiting those kind of weapons."

The Red Cross is urging nations to become part of the so-called Oslo process, which was launched by Norway in February 2007. At that time, 130 governments signed an agreement pledging to work toward the adoption of a legally binding international treaty prohibiting cluster munitions.

More than 100 countries will meet February 18 in Wellington, New Zealand, to build on that declaration. Campaigners for an end to the use of cluster weapons hope to conclude a treaty next May in Dublin, Ireland.

Herby says the time is right to complete a treaty now because there are still a limited number of countries that possess these weapons. And, he says now is the time to get rid of the stockpiles.

"It is also the right time because there is a high risk that those billions of sub-munitions in stockpiles will get into the hands of more and more states," he said. "And, as we saw in the Lebanon conflict, even non-state actors and they will be used possibly in an even more reckless way than they have before.

The bottom line is that there is a potential for an extremely severe humanitarian problem caused by the increased possession, proliferation and use of these weapons by more and more actors."

Handicap International, a Britain-based organization representing the impaired, reports unexploded cluster munitions are found in 25 countries, including Afghanistan, Chad, Ethiopia, Iraq, Sudan and Vietnam. It says men are the most frequent victims, followed by children, who are often attracted by the shape, size and color of these weapons.