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Over 40 African Governments Meet on Cluster Munitions Treaty

Representatives from more than 40 African nations are meeting today in Kampala, Uganda, to promote the signing of the cluster munitions treaty.

Cluster munitions are either dropped from the air or launched from the ground and eject many small bombs. Supporters of the treat say the weapons have been used in Angola, Chad, DRC, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Morocco. The treaty is scheduled to be signed December 3rd in Oslo, Norway.

One of those promoting the treaty is Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch, which is a member of the Cluster Munition Coalition. From Kampala, she spoke to English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about today's meeting.

"This is one of a series of regional conferences that are being held…to build interest in and obtain political support for the convention on cluster munitions, which of course will be open for signature in Norway on the third of December. So, we're bringing governments together here in Kampala for two days, the Ugandan government is, to talk about cluster munitions and in particular to get them to signal their intent to sign the convention," she says.

Explaining where African nations stand on the treaty, Wareham says, "Africa has had some experience with cluster munitions…and a few stockpiled the weapons. It participated in the treaty negotiations. Thirty-four countries from the region were there in Dublin. They adopted the convention in May 2008 and now we're on the road to Oslo, where it will be signed…. They were very strong at the treaty negotiations in seeking a comprehensive prohibition on the weapon and good assistance clauses to help those people who've been hurt by it and to clear up the remnants. There were several states who did not participate in the negotiations of the treaty and we've been trying to reach out to them. One way is to bring them together, which is what we're doing in Kampala."

The December third signing date is the same date used for the signing of the landmine treaty in Ottawa over 10 years ago. "It's the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. And that's, I think, why Norway thought it would be a good idea to open it for signature…on that day," she says.

Wareham expects a good turnout in Oslo. "By the looks of this conference and the African states, I think that we're going to get a very good number on board. There are 43 countries from Africa here at this meeting…. We're going to get a good number of states from Africa, from Latin America, from Europe, from Asia and the Pacific. It's the same as landmines. The big states do not like the way in which this process was carried out, where instead of being negotiated in Geneva and in New York, it was taken into the capitals of the countries who really wanted to do something about this…. We're not likely to see the United States or China or Russia signing on the third of December," she says.

The Human Rights Watch spokesperson says she hopes the treaty will influence those nations to stop using cluster munitions.

Earlier this year, the United States rejected an international ban on cluster munitions. A State Department spokesman said, "These munitions do have a place and use in military inventories, given the right technology, as well as the proper rules of engagement." He said the United States takes "very seriously the international discussion with respect to the threat posed by unexploded ordnance to innocent civilians."