- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2008

OSLO

Afghanistan unexpectedly joined dozens of nations signing a treaty banning cluster bombs in an effort that supporters hope will shame the U.S., Russia and China and other non-signers into abandoning weapons blamed for maiming and killing civilians.

Activists welcomed the change in policy from the war-torn nation, which appeared to have been swayed by a teenager who lost his legs to a cluster bomb and lobbied the Afghan delegation to sign the treaty.

“It is just so huge to get this turnaround. Afghanistan was under a lot of pressure from the United States,” said Thomas Nash, coordinator of the Cluster Bomb Coalition. “If Afghanistan can withstand the pressure, so can others.”

Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles that scatter them over vast areas. Some fail to explode immediately. The unexploded bomblets can then lie dormant for years until they are disturbed, often by children attracted by their small size and bright colors.



“Banning cluster bombs took too long. Too many people lost arms and legs,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said as he opened the conference.

Washington, Moscow and other non-signers say cluster bombs have legitimate military uses such as repelling advancing troop columns. But according to the group Handicap International, 98 percent of cluster-bomb victims are civilians, and 27 percent of them are children.

Norway, which began the drive to ban cluster bombs 18 months ago, was the first to sign, followed by Laos and Lebanon, both hard-hit by the weapons. Britain, formerly a major stockpiler of cluster munitions, also signed the treaty.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said 92 countries signed the treaty Wednesday. Organizers hope more than 100 of the 125 countries represented will have signed by the end of the conference Thursday.

Soraj Ghulan Habib, a 17-year-old, wheelchair-bound Afghan, said he lobbied his country’s delegation, including Afghanistan’s ambassador to Norway, Jawed Ludin, to sign the treaty. Soraj said he lost both legs in a cluster bomb explosion seven years ago.

“I explained to the ambassador my situation, and that the people of Afghanistan wanted a ban,” he said through an interpreter. He said the ambassador called Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who agreed to change his stance. “Today is a historic day,” the teenager said.

The Bush administration has said that a comprehensive ban would hurt world security and endanger U.S. military cooperation on humanitarian work with countries that sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions accord, or CCM.

“Although we share the humanitarian concerns of states signing the CCM, we will not be joining them,” a State Department statement said. “The CCM constitutes a ban on most types of cluster munitions; such a general ban on cluster munitions will put the lives of our military men and women, and those of our coalition partners, at risk.”

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said his signing the treaty shows that a NATO country can defend itself without cluster weapons.

He called on the U.S. and other countries to join the alliance, saying “the only real deal is a global deal.” Mr. Miliband said he would urge the new administration of President-elect Barack Obama to reconsider the U.S. stance on cluster munitions.

Mr. Nash noted that 18 of 26 NATO countries are signing the treaty, which must be ratified by 30 countries before it takes effect.

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