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Monthly Archives: May 2008

More than 100 countries agree to ban cluster bombs

by Robin Millard*

A landmark international convention banning cluster munitions was formally adopted by some 111 countries in Dublin yesterday, in a move supporters hope will stigmatise the lethal weapons as much as landmines.
Diplomats adopted the treaty without objection after 12 days of robust negotiations, outlawing the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions, helping victims and clearing contaminated areas.
The treaty requires the destruction of stockpiled munitions within eight years — though it leaves the door open for future, more precise generations of cluster bombs that pose less harm to civilians.
The convention is due to be signed in Oslo on December 2-3. States then have to ratify the pact.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed it as "a new international standard that will enhance the protection of civilians, strengthen human rights and improve prospects for development."
Politicians and campaigners described the move as hugely significant, despite the absence from the talks of major users and producers of the weapons like the United States, China, Russia, Israel, India and Pakistan
But supporters said they hoped the treaty would pressure them to change track.
"We are not stigmatising diplomatically other states which have not signed," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, whose country spearheaded the talks, said in Oslo after meeting his British counterpart David Miliband.
"They have to take their decisions but the door is open. We have created a framework which is now allowing countries to join and I hope to see that."
Slovenia, which currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, said the new convention would have "a tremendous positive influence on the ground and does respond to the calls made by victims for a safer and better world".
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said that "a new international standard has been established and countries will, over time, follow that".
And Miliband, whose country delighted campaigners by dropping objections to the draft treaty earlier this week, added: "It's up to us to make sure it generates momentum in the process."
The United States has defended its non-attendance, saying it was "deeply concerned" about the humanitarian impact of cluster bombs and all weapons of war, despite "disagreements" about the best way forward.
Cluster munitions are among the weapons posing the gravest dangers to civilians, especially in heavily-bombed countries like Laos, Vietnam and Afghanistan.
Dropped from planes or fired from artillery, they explode in mid-air, randomly scattering bomblets, with many civilians having been killed or maimed by their indiscriminate, wide area effect.
They also pose a lasting threat as many bomblets fail to explode on impact.
Norwegian Deputy Defence Minister Espen Barth Eide told AFP that countries wanted their military actions to be seen as legitimate, and compared the potential impact of the Dublin text to the 1997 Ottawa Treaty on landmines.
"With the landmine treaty, the US did not sign it but we don't really care because they behave as if they have signed it because they recognise they are morally outlawed," he said.
The Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), an umbrella group of non-governmental organisations, said it would now be "politically impossible" for countries to use such weapons without a backlash.
Steve Goose, from Human Rights Watch, said they would now be watching closely to ensure signatories do not help those countries who have not signed and that they reject foreign stockpiling on their soil.
Soraj Ghulam Habib, whose legs were blown off seven years ago by a cluster bomb in Afghanistan, said he now felt his suffering was not in vain.
"Victims need a lot of support and now work can be done to make victims self-reliant, not let them be like beggars on the street," the 17-year-old told AFP.
"I want to save their lives and I hope that cluster munitions will never again be used by any states."


Macedonia set for tense weekend elections

by David Vujanovic*

Macedonian parties make a final pitch to voters yesterday, ending a violence-marred campaign ahead of polls overshadowed by political and ethnic tensions that threaten its bid for EU and NATO membership.
Final election rallies are to be held before a campaign blackout takes effect across Macedonia, a tiny former Yugoslav republic that was on the brink of an inter-ethnic war only seven years ago.
In Sunday's early general elections, the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party of outgoing Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is hoping to secure an absolute majority that would enable it to press on with EU-set reforms.
Surveys give VMRO-DPMNE 31 percent of voter support, against 11 percent for its nearest challengers, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) headed by 35-year-old Radmila Sekerinska.
Rival parties representing ethnic Albanians, a minority which comprises one third of Macedonia's two million population, are also among those competing for a place in the next government.
Macedonia — an impoverished nation where unemployment hovers around 30 percent and the average monthly wage 250 euros (390 dollars) — won the candidate status for European Union membership in 2005.
However, plagued by political turmoil, tensions among the Albanian parties and corruption, the 27-nation bloc is yet to set a date for the country to start membership negotiations.
Gruevski, a 37-year-old former finance minister, called the polls after Macedonia failed to win an invitation to join NATO in early April, after opposition from Greece over a dispute about the former Yugoslav state's name.
Earlier, in mid-March, his government was destabilised by its coalition partner, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), because of its failure to recognise the independence of Kosovo.
The move in mid-March was followed by a series of violent incidents, including an apparent attempt to assassinate ethnic Albanian leader Ali Ahmeti, of the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) party.
In the latest unrest, on Thursday night, police arrested a number of DUI sympathisers after clashes broke out with DPA supporters.
A record number of police were to be deployed across Macedonia during voting on Sunday, including special rapid reaction and helicopter units, said Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska.
The presence of more than 13,000 police officers was part of a policy of "zero tolerance," said Jankolovska, who described the deployment as "the biggest number so far" involved in a Macedonian election.
"I appeal for … peaceful, fair and democratic elections as a condition for fulfilling long-standing efforts of the country to enter the European Union and NATO," she said in a statement.
The pre-poll violence, which also included attacks on several regional DUI offices, is some of the worst seen in Macedonia since 2001, when an Albanian rebellion threatened to explode into an all-out civil war.
The new government is likely to be subjected to strong pressure from the Albanian parties to speed up Macedonia's recognition of Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian-majority province that split from Serbia in February.
But, anxious about maintaining good relations with Serbia and Russia, both of which oppose Kosovo's secession, Skopje has for now taken a wait-and-see approach to the delicate issue.
The future government will be also have to tackle its unresolved dispute with Greece, which has objected to its neighbour calling itself Macedonia since 1991 because it has a province with the same name.
In tomorrow's elections, almost 1.8 million voters will choose 120 deputies from 1,540 candidates. Polling will be monitored by more than 6,200 observers, including 464 representing the international community.