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92 Countries Agree to Clean Up Unexploded Ordnance - 2003-11-27

Representatives of 92 countries attending a U.N. meeting on Conventional Weapons have reached an agreement that would require governments to clean up unexploded ordnance at the end of a war.

The chairman of the meeting, Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood, says this is the first international treaty that requires parties to a war to clean up after themselves.

"States have recognized that parties to a conflict have a responsibility to clear explosive remnants of war, or to assist in such clearance, so as to eradicate the threat that it poses to civilians," he said. "In other words, it is no longer possible for parties to a conflict to just walk away from the post-conflict consequences of the munitions that they have used."

Until now, Mr. Sood says, unexploded ordnance remains in the ground long after a conflict is over, posing a risk to the civilian population. He says these so-called silent killers have claimed thousands of innocent victims.

He says there are no reliable figures on the number of unexploded munitions that remain on the world's battlefields or on the number of people who have been killed or wounded by them. But, he says, the numbers could be high.

"With cluster bombs, for example, there are figures from manufacturers of cluster bombs where they say that up to 30 percent of them fail to explode," said Rakesh Sood. "Now, you can imagine, if a cluster bomb is used and one third of those bomblets have failed to explode, then they will lie around, and it could, potentially, each and every one of them could claim a victim."

Mr. Sood says the treaty was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the 92 countries involved in negotiating it during the past year, including the United States. He says this is the first multi-lateral disarmament treaty that the Bush administration has accepted. The treaty will take effect once it is ratified by at least 20 countries.