Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Three weeks before major negotiations start in Dublin for an international treaty to ban cluster munitions, Southeast Asian countries have met under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Bangkok 24-25 April to share views on the draft treaty and the weapon that has affected their region so severely.

The contamination caused by the use of cluster munitions in South East Asia is the most severe and widespread of any region on earth. Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia have dealt with the human, social and economic impacts of cluster munitions for four decades.

Cluster munitions with at least 380 million bomblets were scattered across these countries in the Vietnam War and according to the best estimates available at least 115 million of these were left on the ground unexploded and are maiming and killing civilians to this day.

"These weapons cause unacceptable harm and must be banned" said Alfredo Lubang,  member of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) and regional representative of Nonviolence International in Thailand.

"Hundreds of millions of bomblets from cluster bombs were dropped decades ago in the Vietnam war, but still continue to kill and maim civilians as they work in the fields or try to lead normal lives" he added.

Laos and Cambodia are keen to ensure that other countries do not experience the same problems they have and will be active participants in the ban negotiations in Dublin 19-30 May. Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines have also confirmed that they will be going to Dublin. Other countries in the region, for instance Thailand and Vietnam, are actively considering participation. Cluster bombs have and continue to cause unacceptable harm in the region.

The CMC believe it is vital for cluster munition affected countries to be well represented in Dublin. The CMC encourages countries in South East Asia to play an active role in the negotiations.

 "We hope that Vietnam as a severely affected country will join Laos and Cambodia in showing international leadership on this issue. We also hope that Thailand as a stockpiler of cluster munitions will show solidarity with its affected neighbours and work for a ban on these weapons" says Grethe Østern, Co-Chair of the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC).

The state representatives at the ICRC meeting agreed that countries in Southeast Asia have a unique historical experience with cluster munitions that should be actively reflected in all multilateral discussions on this issue.

The state participants discussed key issues for the Dublin negotiations. Several of them emphasized the urgency of including specific commitments to victim assistance in the future treaty.

In particular, there was a strong support among the participants for the idea that user countries should have a special responsibility to help solve the problems they have caused, by funding and assisting activities in the areas of victim assistance and clearance of unexploded bomblets that continue to claim lives every year. The

Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) is an international network of over 250 civil society organisations in 60 countries committed to protecting civilians from the effects of cluster munitions and support governments to conclude a new international treaty banning cluster munitions by 2008.

Members of the CMC network have been invited by ICRC to participate in the regional meeting. More information on the CMC is available online at http://www.stopclustermunitions.org

For further information please call CMC representatives Grethe Ostern (NPA) on + 47900 78208, James Turton (Austcare) on +66 404114712 , Susan B Walker (ICBL) on +66 8602 44977 (in Bangkok), Daniel Barty on , +61 2 9565 9104, Samantha Bolton +41 79 2392366.

Notes to Editors

What are cluster bombs? Cluster munitions are large weapons which are deployed from the air or from the ground and release dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions. Submunitions released by air-dropped cluster bombs are most often called "bomblets," while those delivered from the ground are usually referred to as "grenades."

What's the problem with this weapon?

Air-dropped or ground-launched, they cause two major humanitarian problems and risks to civilians.

First, their widespread deployment means they cannot distinguish between military targets and civilians so the humanitarian impact can be extreme when the weapon is used in or near populated areas.

Secondly, many bomblets fail to detonate on impact and become de facto antipersonnel mines killing and maiming people long after the conflict has ended. These duds are however more lethal than antipersonnel mines; incidents involving submunition duds are much more likely to cause death than injury.

Who has used cluster munitions?

At least 14 countries have used cluster munitions: Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Israel, Morocco, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia (USSR), Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, UK, US, and FR Yugoslavia. A small number of non-state armed groups have used the weapon (such as Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006). Billions of submunitions are stockpiled by some 76 countries. A total of 34 states are known to have produced over 210 different types cluster munitions. At least 24 countries have been affected by the use of cluster munitions including Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chad, Croatia, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Montenegro, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Uganda, and Vietnam.

Why is a ban on cluster munitions necessary?

Simply put, cluster munitions kill and injure too many civilians. The weapon caused more civilian casualties in Iraq in 2003 and Kosovo in 1999 than any other weapon system. Cluster munitions stand out as the weapon that poses the gravest dangers to civilians since antipersonnel mines, which were banned in 1997. Yet there is currently no provision in international law to specifically address problems caused by cluster munitions. Israel's massive use of the weapon in Lebanon in August 2006 resulted in more than 200 civilian casualties in the year following the ceasefire and served as a catalyst that has propelled governments to attempt to secure a legally-binding international instrument tackling cluster munitions in 2008.

What is the Oslo Process?
In February 2007, forty-six governments met in Oslo to endorse a call by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre to conclude a new legally binding instrument in 2008 that prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians and provides adequate resources to assist survivors and clear contaminated areas.

for more information please visit: www.stopclustermunition.org

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 29 April 2008 )
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