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Last Updated: Monday, 16 June, 2003, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
UN debates war zone clear-up law
By Emma Jane Kirby
BBC correspondent in Geneva

Boys walk through unexploded munitions in southeast Baghdad
Hundreds of Iraqis have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance

The establishment of a law requiring both sides in a conflict to clear up all explosive remnants of war once fighting has ceased is being discussed at the United Nations European headquarters.

Meetings on the issue have continued over the past two years, but some countries, including the United States, are reluctant to sign any treaty that would be legally binding.

Campaign groups say thousands of people's lives are at risk from unexploded devices left over from conflicts and it is the duty of government to protect civilians from risk.

The UN already has a convention on conventional weapons but, although that treaty covers issues like landmines, there is currently no provision in international law that specifically addresses the problems of the explosive remnants of conflict.

For the next two weeks, delegates will be meeting in Geneva to try to iron out proposals that would introduce new legal obligations to reduce the impact of unexploded weapons on civilians.

Campaign groups are particularly concerned about cluster bombs, 300,000 of which were used by coalition forces in Iraq.

'Action not talk'

Each air-dropped bomb can contain over 200 devices that are scattered over a wide area - some bombs fail to explode on impact and effectively turn into landmines that can kill and maim indiscriminately long after war is over.

Richard Lloyd, from Landmine Action, says international governments have a duty to clear up the lethal debris of conflict.

If the governments involved don't agree... then that'll be a massive failure and another blow to the UN system
Richard Lloyd, Landmine Action

He highlighted the plight of hundreds of Iraqis, many of them children, who have been injured or killed by unexploded ordnance since the end of the conflict.

"Discussions have been going on now for nearly two years about this and we really think it is time for the talking to end and action to be taken," he said.

"If the governments involved don't agree over the next couple of weeks, then that'll be a massive failure and another blow to the UN system - that's really inexcusable."

The United States has already raised some objections to signing a treaty that would be legally binding, but the campaign groups say unless clearing up unexploded devices does become necessary under international law, then thousands of innocent civilian lives and livelihoods will continue to be lost.


SEE ALSO:
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Landmine threat to aid mission
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Vietnam vets launch anti-mine scheme
04 Dec 00  |  Asia-Pacific


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