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Countries Discuss Ban On Cluster Munitions

Four more nations joined the growing list of countries aiming to ban cluster bombs, munitions that disburse smaller bomblets with deadly results for civilian populations, in a two-day meeting of Latin American countries that adjourned Wednesday.

The 19 countries, along with a number of nongovernmental organizations, met to advance the so-called Oslo Process, a campaign launched earlier this year in Norway to ban the bombs, blamed for indiscriminant deaths of civilians.

Representatives of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Uruguay added their countries to the list of 76 nations committed to banning the weapons.

Argentina and Chile announced that they had discontinued production of the bomblets, many of which remain unexploded and later kill or maim innocents, especially children who are attracted by their color and form.

“We have strong statements of support for the Oslo Process from virtually every state here,” said Stephen Goose, executive director of munitions for Human Rights Watch. “The only country not fully on board the Oslo Process aimed at a new treaty banning cluster munitions is Brazil.”

Brazil, a major exporter of cluster munitions, declared at the meeting that it prefers to address the issue through a United Nations process under way, a position similar to the United States – the world’s largest producer of cluster munitions.

“The fact that Brazil is participating at all is a major step forward,” said Hildegarde Vansintjan of the Belgium-based Handicap International, a nongovernmental organization.

Goose said he hopes Brazil can be persuaded to join the initiative to make Latin America an area free of cluster bombs.

Goose said he believes the United States is making the same mistake it made when it delayed joining the successful effort to ban land mines, rendering it unable to influence the course of the negotiations until it was too late.

Two more meetings are planned for Vienna, Austria and Wellington, New Zealand to hammer out a treaty that would be signed in Dublin, Ireland in May 2008.

During those meeting, countries will engage in difficult negotiations over the definition of “cluster bombs” and the exact wording of the treaty. Some of the countries that produce cluster bombs but are nonetheless party to the Oslo Process want to exclude bombs with self-destruct devices from the ban, Goose said.

Also participating in the meeting as an observer was the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, which has donated $500,000 so far to help clean up cluster munitions that have been used extensively over the years in wars in the Middle East, the Balkans and Southeast Asia. They were used in Latin America only by the British against Argentina during the Malvinas/ Faulklands conflict in 1982.

“A treaty to ban cluster munitions would be a fitting tribute to Diana, who was so active in the effort to secure the ban on land mines,” said Samantha Rennie, representing the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.

The meeting was not without controversy as a diplomatic flap erupted over Argentina’s cluster munitions record.

On Tuesday, the first day of the conference, Argentine Ambassador Juan José Arcuri strenuously objected to an interview given by Goose that appeared in Tuesday’s daily La Nación, in which the Human Rights Watch official identified Argentina as a producer and stockpiler of cluster munitions.

Goose said that Argentina had not gone on the record as having discontinued production of the weapons and having destroyed its stockpile until Monday, the day before the meeting began.




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