Sun, May 25, 2008 - Page 6 News List

France pledges to ditch nearly all cluster bombs

UNACCEPTABLE HARM China, India, Israel, Russia, Pakistan and the US were all notably absent from the conference aimed at banning cluster bombs

AFP , DUBLIN

The first week of a 109-nation conference 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 Defense Minister Herve Morin said in a joint statement on 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 defense 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 organizations, cited Britain as the leading country seeking changes to the draft pact and holding on to its remaining stockpiles.

But 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.

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 US — all major producers and stockpilers.

On Friday, the CMC called on the US 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.

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