Activists unite in Lebanon against killer cluster bombs

BEIRUT - Hundreds of activists and officials from across the globe gather in Beirut Monday with one aim in mind -- to rid the planet of cluster munitions which have killed or maimed tens of thousands of people worldwide.
The conference, which runs through Friday, joins representatives of 80 of the 100 or so countries that have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international treaty which calls for the eradication of the deadly weapons.
"This meeting will serve to put the focus on the importance of states urgently implementing all aspects of this treaty," said Steve Goose, chairman of the Cluster Munition Coalition which plays a major role in demining around the world.
"This includes stockpile destruction, victim assistance and the clearance of contaminated land around the world," Goose said.
"We already have eight (member) states who completely destroyed their stockpiles and we have many others that are already far along, even though the treaty is less than two years old."
The Cluster Munition Coalition, which groups more than 350 non-governmental organisations, estimates that 28 countries are still affected by cluster munitions -- bombs that split open before impact and scatter multiple submunitions, often hundreds, the size of tennis balls.
Many cluster bombs fail to explode immediately, lie hidden for years and kill and maim civilians, often unsuspecting children who mistake the weapons for toys, for years after the original conflict is over -- such as in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
More than 100 countries, including Lebanon, have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which entered into force on August 1, 2010. The first meeting of states parties to the convention was held in November 2010 in Laos.
The convention requires signatories to stop the use, production and transfer of the weapons.
China, Israel, Russia and the United States have not signed the treaty. They are thought to hoard and manufacture the bulk of the munitions, although the data is secret.
The United Nations estimates Israel dropped four million bomblets over southern Lebanon in the final days of its deadly 2006 war with Hezbollah.
More than 50 people have been killed and 350 injured by cluster bomb explosions in southern Lebanon since then.
The Lebanese army says 67 percent of the affected lands have been cleared but 75 million dollars are still needed to render the country free of cluster bombs.