Germany to ratify cluster bomb treaty, as Berlin talks begin

Germany to ratify cluster bomb treaty, as Berlin talks beginBerlin - Germany is to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions in the coming days, German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler told an international cluster bomb meeting in Berlin on Thursday.

The two-day talks, hosted by the German Foreign Office, bring together 270 participants from 75 countries to discuss ways of destroying military stockpiles of cluster munitions.

So far, ten of the 98 signatory countries have ratified the convention, which prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs.

Cluster weapons - criticized for carrying a high risk of maiming or killing civilians - can be launched from the air or via artillery shells and can disperse hundreds of bomblets over a target area.

Children are often victims of the weapons, which can remain lodged in the ground for years after being fired, since they sometimes mistake the so-called bomblets for toys.

Signatory states have eight years to destroy military stockpiles of cluster weapons, once the convention comes into effect six months after it has been ratified by thirty states.

Espen Eide, the Deputy Minister of Defence for Norway, said the Berlin conference would maintain the momentum of the treaty drawn up in Oslo last December, as well as providing a forum to discuss ways of destroying cluster bombs.

Eide said they had drawn lessons from the landmine treaty, which was not initially implemented by all the states which had signed it. For this reason he welcomed the fact that Germany was hosting the talks before the ban was in place.

Unlike landmines, the Norwegian minister said the ban on cluster bombs could take effect before the problem became too widespread.

"We saw a catastrophe in the making before it was really a global catastrophe," Eide told German Press Agency dpa.

While the destruction of current stockpiles is an important goal, it is arguably far more urgent to remove cluster munitions from former conflict zones.

One of the countries worst affected by cluster bombs is Laos, where the deadly munitions are embedded in the land as a legacy of the Vietnam War.

Deputy Foreign Minister of Laos Bounkeut Sangsomsak said they hoped to host a conference next year to address ways of clearing land of cluster bombs.

This would also provide an opportunity for an international delegation to view first-hand the damage caused by the weapon, Sangsomsak added. (dpa)