BY PETER MOSZYNSKI
LEADING mine-action agencies marked the fourth anniversary of the landrnine treaty this week with a call to stop the use of cluster bombs.
They warned that the devices are so sensitive that they will detonate at the slightest touch and are just as dangerous as landmines.
The United States has dropped an estimated 600 cluster bombs during its campaign in Afghanistan. Soft ground conditions in many parts of that country could allow up to a third of bombs to land without detonating. This means that many thousands of smaller bombs could be lying dormant in sand, grass or in the branches of trees,:as they have in previous conflicts in the Gulf and Kosovo.
Landmine Action, an umbrella group of campaigning organisations, and the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund are calling for the use of cluster bombs to be completely suspended until effective international humanitarian law to deal with explosive remnants of war is in place.
Andrew Purkis, chief executive of the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund said: "During her lifetime, Diana, Princess of Wales was a major force in increasing awareness of the dreadful effects of landmines in killing and maiming innocent civilians. Like landmines, unexploded cluster bombs represent a lethal threat: they can lie in the ground for years, until a child or a farmer disturbs them."
The yellow bomblets, which are disbursed by cluster bombs, are the same colour as the yellow food packages that the US airforce has been dropping. Reports are coming in of children being killed by rushing to pick up munitions that they had mistaken for food aid.
Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace movement and a member of the coalition against landmines, advocates an end to the use of all indis
General secretary Pat Gaffney said: "Given the suffering that landmines have inflicted on the Afghan people, it seems even more invidious that similar weapons are again being used against innocent civilians. Cluster munitions have the same impact as landmines and we feel it imperative to close the loopholes which currently permit their production and use."
Richard Lloyd, director of Landmine Action, said: "The UK Government was at the forefront of achieving the Ottawa Landmine Treaty.
"Now we urge them to lead the way in bringing about independent controls to prevent innocent civilians becoming casualties of cluster bombs and other explosive remnants of war. This month's UN conference on conventional weapons is the opportunity to do exactly that."
The US admits to having dropped hundreds of cluster bombs on Afghanistan. Each of the CBU 87B "combined effects munitions" contains 202 bomblets — designed to be equally effective at destroying tanks or people, with an incendiary capacity against buildings. A total of 122,000 individual submunitions have been deployed. Tens of thousands of unexploded bomblets add to the misery of the most mined country on earth.
Unexploded cluster bombs
are very similar to land/nines — except that they are far more powerful and generally kill and maim far greater numbers with each accident.
Campaigners are calling for the UK to support the introduction of strict controls when the 1980 UN convention on certain conventional weapons comes under review in Geneva later this month.
They also want more extensive measures to enforce the clearance of all explosive remnants of war, which include conventional bombs, shells and grenades as well as landmines and cluster bombs.