Brown backs cluster bomb ban

By staff writers
May 23, 2008

Hopes for a global agreement to outlaw cluster bombs have been given a boost after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for a total ban on the use of the weapons by the British military.

Church groups have been prominent amongst those calling for an international ban.

A statement from Brown's spokesman injected fresh impetus into ongoing negotiations at an international conference on cluster bombs in Dublin.

"The prime minister had issued instructions to our negotiators in Dublin that we should work intensively to ban cluster bombs that cause unacceptable harm to civilians," it said.

A Downing Street spokesman said Brown had also asked the Ministry of Defence "to assess the remaining munitions in use to ensure that there was no risk to civilians."

British forces currently possess two types of cluster ammunitions, the artillery-fired M85 and the M73, which is launched from helicopters.

Campaigners claim British troops used the M85 bombs in the Iraq war in 2003.

The new stance received a warm welcome from human rights activists and charities.

Anna Macdonald, head of arms control for Oxfam, said: "Britain has at last come in from the cold. We hope that this strong statement from the prime minister will ensure that the UK signs onto the treaty and immediately gets rid of these weapons which maim and kill long after they have been dropped."

Simon Conway, co-chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition and director of Landmine Action, said: "We are glad that Gordon Brown is making good on his previous public commitment to ban cluster bombs."

The Dublin summit, which runs until May 30, is aiming to strike an international agreement that would completely eradicate the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions among signatories.

However, the US on Wednesday opposed a worldwide ban on cluster bombs, calling instead for "technological fixes" that would make them safer.

State Department expert Stephen Mull told reporters the US is "deeply concerned" about the danger of such munitions, but said a ban like one proposed at a major conference in Dublin would be impractical.

"We think that it will be impossible to ban cluster munitions as many in the Oslo process would like to do, because these are weapons that have a certain military utility," Mull said.

The US and other key cluster bomb producers and stockpilers are absent from the meeting where more than 100 nations are pursuing negotiations launched last year in Norway for a treaty banning the munitions.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called Monday for a "visionary" global deal to ban cluster bombs at the talks in Dublin.

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