Victims call for ban on cluster bombs

Victims of cluster bombs, many missing limbs, urged participants of an international conference Wednesday to ban the deadly and debilitating weapons.

Fired by artillery or dropped by aircraft, cluster bombs are canisters that open in flight and typically scatter hundreds of small bomblets across a wide area. Some fail to explode immediately and can lie dormant for years until they are disturbed, often by children, causing serious injuries or death.

"My message is simple - ban cluster bombs, clear them and help survivors and their families," said Umarbek Pulodov, 21, of Tajikistan, who lost an eye when his village was bombed in 1992. He considers himself lucky - his older brother and uncle were among the dead.

The meeting is part of the so-called Oslo Process, launched in February when 46 countries set out a path for an international treaty banning cluster bombs by 2008. Some 130 countries are attending. Among those absent are the United States, China, Russia and Israel.

The three-day conference, which began Wednesday, plans to discuss ways of helping victims such as Pulodov.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was watching closely the international community's efforts to address the issue and said he hoped they would intensify over the coming year.

"These are high humanitarian, human rights and developmental stakes," Ban said in a statement ahead of the meeting.

At Wednesday's opening session, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said the international community had a moral duty to ban cluster munitions and noted that an "impressive global alliance" had been built over the past few months.

"Not only do we have a moral obligation to ban cluster munitions, we also have a strong mandate from the international community," Plassnik said.

But while the number of countries backing the idea has increased, the United States, Russia and China are among those who oppose it.

Sladjan Vuckovic, a Serbian who lost both his arms in April 1999 while clearing an area contaminated by cluster bombs, said many victims developed psychological problems in addition to their physical injuries - and that often their families paid the price.

He said his children, aged 9 and 5 when he was injured, were "forced to grow up much faster" than they should have.

"I could not care for them, go for a walk or take them by the hand," he told reporters through a translator.

Last month, a U.N. weapons conference in Geneva called for new rules on when cluster bombs can be used but stopped short of launching talks on a legally binding treaty. ( AP )

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