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Talks begin on cluster bomb ban

Talks begin on cluster bomb ban
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A treaty banning the use of cluster bombs – that is the aim of a conference which has just started in Ireland.

Representatives from more than 100 countries are in Dublin. But the big producers and users such as the US, Israel, Russia and China are against the move.

A petition of 700,000 signatures has been handed to the Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin.

Humanitarian organisations say the weapons cause unacceptable harm to civilians – like landmines, which were banned in 1999. Some 98 per cent of the victims of cluster bombs are civilians, not soldiers.

But the negotiations promise to be difficult. Various countries including the UK, France and Germany want some types of cluster bombs excluded from the treaty.

Cluster munitions open up in mid air and scatter as many as several hundred bomblets over wide areas.

Often they fail to explode, creating virtual mine fields that can kill or injure anyone who comes across them.

The 2006 war in Lebanon made the world sit up and take notice of the consequences of cluster bombs. In just one month an estimated 37 square kilometres of land were contaminated with up to a million unexploded bomblets.

Since then 250 civilians and de-mining experts have been killed or wounded by the weapons, which also prevent the development of agriculture and transport.

Naema Ghazi lives in southern Lebanon. She lost a leg because of a cluster bomb.

She explained: “I was coming back from the field. I just stepped on the ground and I don’t know how it exploded but then I was bleeding. I immediately felt that I had lost my leg, it was hanging on by just one vein.”

Even more often the victims are children. Like 11-year-old Zahra Hussein, who lost her fingers when she picked up a cluster bomb.

Now she says she can’t play properly with her friends any more and that they tease her about her hand.

Zahra just wants one thing – for her fingers and thumb to grow back.