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Cluster Bomb Ban Debated in Dublin

Representatives of 109 countries have gathered in Dublin for a 12-day conference aimed at a global ban on cluster munitions. Supporters of the ban say it is "now or never" for a deal. But as Tendai Maphosa reports from London, some governments are reportedly pushing for a weaker treaty that would allow them to keep their own cluster bombs.

The Dublin conference is meant to end in a treaty that will outlaw the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster bombs worldwide and ensure support for affected communities including clearance of contaminated land. But not all governments are showing enthusiasm for an immediate ban. Some have not even bothered attending.

But Thomas Nash of the Cluster Munitions Coalition, an umbrella body campaigning for a total ban, hopes those not present will eventually fall in line.

"While it is true that countries such as the United States, Russia, and China have refused to come to Dublin and negotiate this ban, we believe that the strong moral and legal standards that will be set over the next two weeks will very quickly become the standard by which every single country is judged," said Nash.

The United States has said that cluster munitions have a place in the military inventory as long as proper rules of engagement are followed.

Other notable no-shows at the conference are India, Pakistan and Israel who the Cluster Munitions Coalition says are also users, producers and stockpilers of cluster munitions.

Nash also pointed out that some of the countries represented in Dublin are trying to have a watered down treaty by calling for exceptions such as keeping their stocks of cluster bombs. But he says such exceptions would weaken the treaty.

"There is actually only a small number of countries now that are calling for such blanket exceptions talking about the UK, Japan, Finland, but really most of the countries here and even most of the stockpilers and producers are moving towards a more comprehensive approach to this treaty and we hope that the pressure that civil society that the countries that are affected by these weapons, but also their fellow stockpilers and former producers will be able to put pressure on these countries like the U.K.," he said.

According to the Cluster Munitions Coalition the treaty process was launched in Oslo, Norway in February 2007 when 46 nations agreed to conclude a deal prohibiting cluster munitions "that cause unacceptable harm to civilians" in 2008. One-hundred-forty countries took part in subsequent meetings in Peru, Austria and New Zealand that saw the development of the treaty text.

At the conclusion of the negotiations, participating states will adopt the final text of the treaty and no further changes can be made. Countries, including those not present during negotiations will sign the treaty in Oslo, Norway in December. After signing the treaty, countries still need to ratify it, usually through legislative approval, before it becomes legally binding.

Those against the use of cluster bombs argue that most of the cluster-bomb victims are non-combatants. Pope Benedict XVI added his voice to those campaigning against cluster bombs Sunday when he called for a "strong and credible" treaty to end their use.