Groups attack cluster bomb use

John Plummer

Three prominent charities have condemned the British armed forces for using cluster bombs in their attempt to defeat Iraqi soldiers near Basra.

But they also claim that sickening media pictures of people killed and maimed by the bombs will strengthen the campaign to have them banned.

The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and Landmine Action called last month for cluster bombs not to be used in Iraq at the launch of Clear Up, their campaign to raise awareness of explosive remnants of war.

The Government's admission last week that the weapons had been used, hours after the military stated categorically they had not, was described by Landmine Action director Richard Lloyd as "sad and tragic".

"The military don't like giving things up and it's always a long haul to make them understand what their weapons do," he said.

Andrew Purkis, chief executive of the Diana Fund, which has given £5 million to organisations opposed to landmines and explosive remnants of war, said: "It's appalling that, despite the well documented problems with cluster weapons, the UK and US are dropping them on Iraq."

Amnesty International added its voice by claiming the use of cluster bombs could be a breach of the Geneva Convention because of the way they harm civilians.

Each cluster bomb contains more than 200 bomblets, which are scattered over a wide area. The bomblets often fail to explode and turn into landmines that kill and maim after the conflict ends.

Landmine Action is part of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, whose six-year drive to ban anti-personnel mines received the Nobel Peace Prize.

The mines were eventually outlawed in the Ottawa Treaty but there is no international legislation banning cluster bombs. The Clear Up campaign aims to get each government to pledge responsibility for clearing its armed forces' explosive remnants of war.

Lloyd claimed the initiative had generated a "huge response" but said it was too early to say how many people had joined.

He said the situation in Iraq was in fact contributing to the charities' cause, something he highlighted in frequent media appearances last week.

"The response we get from the military now is the same as what the Ministry of Defence once told us about anti-personnel mines," said Lloyd. "But every time the army uses cluster weapons, it highlights our campaign."

Lloyd said the publicity was partly a result of military issues now being higher up the public agenda, largely because of the efforts of NGOs and charities.

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