December 3, 2007 / 5:59 PM / in 10 years

Canada urged to take lead in cluster bomb ban

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada should revive its leadership role in the successful global campaign against landmines and push for a similar ban on cluster bombs, activists said on Monday.

Canada’s government was instrumental 10 years ago, in partnership with nongovernmental organizations, in drafting the treaty banning anti-personnel mines, known as the Ottawa Treaty.

Today 156 countries have joined, some 40 million landmines have been destroyed and the number of civilians killed or maimed by the weapons has been drastically reduced, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations.

On Monday, Ottawa pledged C$80 million ($80 million) for mine clearance and victims’ assistance in Afghanistan.

But the country, renowned for its peacekeeping image, has had no clear role in a new set of negotiations under way in Oslo for an international agreement to outlaw the production, sale and use of cluster munitions, scheduled to be signed by the end of 2008.

“The countries that were at the forefront of the Ottawa process are no longer there today,” said Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her landmine work.

“I‘m sorry, but that includes Canada as well as France, Germany, the United Kingdom ... I would ask Canada to come on board, like it did for the landmine ban. You have more or less a de facto moratorium; make it reality in law,” Williams said.

Representatives of 47 governments met in Oslo in February to begin crafting an international ban on cluster bombs.

The weapons are blamed for killing and maiming thousands of civilians, often long after fighting has stopped, and are used in conflicts from the Middle East to Vietnam.

Cluster bombs comprise a range of munitions that can be dropped from aircraft or fired in rockets. They contain hundreds of smaller bombs that spread out over a wide area, killing or maiming enemy soldiers.

Normally, some do not explode immediately and so can be inadvertently activated by farmers or children playing, even decades after they have been fired in combat.

World opinion began to turn against these weapons after the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, when Israel dropped four million cluster bombs on southern Lebanon. An estimated one-quarter of those failed to explode, said Williams.

Despite the successes of the treaty against landmines, some major producers and stockpilers remain outside it, including the United States, Russia, China, India and Pakistan.

Lloyd Axworthy, the former Canadian foreign minister who played a key role in creating the Ottawa Treaty, warned that big emerging powers like India and China also appear to have no interest in such treaties and more effort should be put into lobbying them.

Over a dozen member states appear set to miss deadlines for completing their demining in the next few years, and less than 1 percent of the $475 million spent last year on mine action went to help survivors.

“We made a lot of progress in the first 10 years. We’ve advanced further than we thought. But in the next 10 years we can get rid of them altogether, that is the objective,” said Axworthy.

($1=$1 Canadian)

Reporting by Louise Egan; Editing by Rob Wilson

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