I (AFP) - A landmark meeting on cluster munitions has set targets to destroy stockpiles of the weapons, clean up areas contaminated with unexploded ordnance and help victims of the bombs, an activist said Friday.
Nations represented at the talks in Laos set a series of one-year targets for implementing the Convention on Cluster Munitions that became international law on August 1, said Thomas Nash, coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition.
The pact bans cluster bombs - which are estimated to have killed or wounded tens of thousands of civilians globally - and entitles countries affected by them to financial help.
Among the targets, countries with cluster bomb stockpiles will aim within a year to develop a plan, including a timeline and budget, for destroying them, Nash told AFP.
The donor countries have agreed to ensure that the pace and effectiveness of victim assistance, clearance and stockpile destruction activities increase in 2011, he said.
Launched from the ground or dropped from the air, cluster bombs split open before impact to scatter multiple bomblets over a wide area.
The bomblets can resemble a large flashlight battery or a tennis ball. Many fail to explode and can lie hidden for decades, posing a threat to unsuspecting farmers and children. Parties to the convention also agreed that countries contaminated with cluster bombs should implement plans to clear the deadly legacy and gather data about the victims within a year, Nash said from Laos. The United States, China, Israel and Vietnam are among countries that have not signed the convention.
More than 1,000 government and military officials, charity workers and bomb victims convened in Vientiane for the first meeting of the 46 states that are party to the convention.
They received a tragic reminder of the problem on Wednesday when a 10-year-old Laotian girl died and her sister was injured by a cluster bomblet.
The girls were heading home from school when they saw a bomblet and they just picked it up and are playing, and after that it exploded, said Bountao, of the victim assistance unit at the National Regulatory Authority which coordinates work on unexploded ordnance.
Laos is the most heavily-bombed nation on earth per capita, according to the NRA, which says about 300 people are killed or injured each year by unexploded ordnance left behind after the US war in neighbouring Vietnam spilled over between 1964 and 1973.
Among the weapons dropped were 270 million cluster bomblets, many of which failed to explode and remain scattered across the country, the NRA said.
The government says only about one percent of contaminated land has been cleared.
Nash said the US has funded victim assistance and bomb clearance in Laos and attended some events on the sidelines of the conference. But he said its really unacceptable that the United States would not attend this conference officially, as the country that caused this problem in the first place.
Other non-signatories including China and Vietnam attended as official observers.
After Laos and Vietnam, Iraq and Cambodia have the largest contaminated areas. Nash said Vietnam gave a statement to the conference that was very positive in tone and encouraging that it may join the convention in the future.