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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 January 2008, 19:49 GMT
US plans cluster bomb task force
Unexploded cluster bomblet in Lebanon
Millions of cluster bomblets were dropped on Lebanon in 2006
The United States says it is ready to create a rapid reaction force to defuse cluster bombs left over from conflicts.

Officials made the suggestion at a United Nations conference in Geneva to discuss conventional weapons and how to protect civilians after hostilities.

They said the new force would go at short notice to places where the civilian population was at risk.

The US, Russia, China and Israel, which all produce and stockpile the weapons, oppose efforts to ban cluster bombs.

Nearly 100 countries support the so-called "Oslo Process" - an initiative launched by the Norwegian government in 2007 which aims to produce a legally binding treaty banning cluster munitions by the end of 2008.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which supports a ban, estimates that 400 million people in countries and regions like Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Chechnya live in areas affected by cluster bombs - effectively minefields.

When dropped from aircraft, the bombs break apart to scatter hundreds of small bomblets over a wide area. Some are designed not to explode on impact and can lie unexploded on the ground until disturbed, posing a threat to civilians long after conflicts end.

Explosive hazards

The US supports the use of cluster bombs if used and defused properly, and says efforts should focus on ensuring countries know how to use the weapons in a way that is in full accordance with international humanitarian law.

A child injured by a landmine in Kurdish hospital
Children are some of the most frequent victims of landmines

A statement from US officials at the conference said the proposed reaction force "would respond globally to short notice and emergent humanitarian operations that require the removal or mitigation of explosive hazards to protect civilian populations".

They said further details would be released at a later date.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes, in Geneva, says the US move is seen as a sign that US will continue to oppose a ban.

An example of recent use of cluster bombs was in the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel. The UN says about four million cluster bomblets were dropped on Lebanon during the 34-day conflict.

Israeli military prosecutors said the deployment was legal under international law.

SEE ALSO
Israeli cluster bomb use 'legal'
24 Dec 07 |  Middle East
Cautious optimism for landmine ban
03 Dec 07 |  Special Reports
Delicate territory: the landmine ban
02 Dec 07 |  Special Reports
In pictures: Afghan mine clearing
27 Nov 07 |  In Pictures
Lebanon mines 'continue to kill'
20 Oct 06 |  Middle East
UN marks landmine awareness day
04 Apr 06 |  Americas
Healing Afghanistan's war scars
08 Jun 05 |  South Asia

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