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France supports cluster bomb ban

Latest update : 2008-05-24

The first week of an anti-cluster munitions conference in Ireland ended positively after France pledged to chuck nearly all of its stockpiles. But absences from Russia, China, India and US may hamper the conference's success.

The first week of a key 109-nation conference here aimed at banning cluster munitions ended on an optimistic note after major player France pledged to ditch nearly all its stockpiles.

The 12-day gathering at Dublin's Croke Park stadium is seeking to thrash out a wide ranging pact that would completely wipe out the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions among signatories.

Campaigners remain confident of getting a satisfactory result.

Some countries, however, have been holding out for exemptions, more time to dismantle their arsenals, looser language on assisting user countries or transition periods in which they could still deploy cluster bombs.

France said its move was aimed at keeping the ball rolling towards a comprehensive ban.

"We are midway through the Dublin conference," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Defence Minister Herve Morin said in a joint statement Friday.

To keep up the momentum in Dublin, France would "immediately withdraw the M26 rocket from operational service," they said.

"This weapon represents over 90 percent of our cluster munitions stockpiles."

The move "shows that it is possible to reconcile humanitarian requirements with defence ones," they said, adding that France was working "relentlessly" to get the most effective treaty possible.

"France defends a position in Dublin without ambiguity: to ban all cluster munitions defined as unacceptable because they cause humanitarian damage," they said.

However, it is that term, "cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians", which is a real bone of contention at Croke Park.

At the start of the week, the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), an umbrella group of non-governmental organisations, cited Britain as the leading country seeking changes to the draft pact and hold on to its remaining stockpiles.

But then on Wednesday British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman announced that the prime minister had instructed London's negotiators to work to ban weapons that cause unacceptable harm.

Brown had also asked the Ministry of Defence to assess Britain's remaining munitions to ensure there was no risk to civilians, his spokesman added.

The CMC welcomed the comments as a sign of progress.

However, the statement from Brown's spokesman contained nothing specifically saying Britain was now prepared to decommission its M85 and M73 cluster munitions, which is what the CMC has called for.

Notably absent from the conference -- even in an observer capacity -- are China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the United States -- all major producers and stockpilers.

On Friday, the CMC called on the United States to "stop bullying", accusing Washington of attempting to weaken the treaty.

"We are here to ban cluster munitions, not to create loopholes that would make it easier for the United States to use them," said CMC co-chair Steve Goose.

"US allies in Dublin must resist the pressure from Washington."

The CMC said Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands were still pushing for an exemption clause on assisting other states to avoid problems on joint operations.

Washington called Wednesday for "technological fixes" that would make cluster bombs safer.

State Department expert Stephen Mull told reporters the United States is "deeply concerned" about the danger of such munitions, but said a ban would be impractical.

"A much more effective way to go about this is through technological fixes that will make sure that these weapons are no longer viable once the conflict is over," Mull said.

The process, started by Norway in February 2007, has taken the same path as the landmark 1997 Ottawa Treaty ban on anti-personnel landmines, sidestepping the UN to seal a swift pact.

The conference is due to conclude on Friday.

Date created : 2008-05-24