Britain dragging its feet on treaty to ban cluster bombs, say activists

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Britain has been accused of kicking negotiations aimed at banning cluster bombs into the long grass as a group of 25 countries called for talks to agree curbs on the deadly weapons.

Campaigners said the Government had blocked full-scale talks to draw up a weapon control treaty. They claimed that British promises announced last week to phase out "dumb" (untargeted) cluster bombs would have no effect.

The Government argued that Britain needed to engage with the main holders of cluster bombs, including Russia, the United States and China. The Foreign Office said that Britain wanted to work with the international community to ensure that weapons were more reliable and had minimum impact on civilians.

Arms control talks in Geneva ended yesterday with the Norwegians, who had argued for full negotiations towards curbs on cluster bombs, announcing that they would call their own international meeting on cluster bombs to try to move toward a treaty to ban the weapons.

Britain agreed to enter into "discussions" on the problem of unexploded weaponry left over from wars, a move dismissed by campaigners as creating a "talking shop" that would not lead to controls.

But the Foreign Office insisted that talks that did not include the main users of the weapons would not secure new arms controls.

Cluster bombs and shells scatter hundreds of deadly "bomblets" over a wide area. Israel's conflict with Hizbollah in the summer left the country littered with up to a million unexploded sub-munitions.

Simon Conway, director of Landmine Action, said: "The pledge to phase out 'dumb' munitions is an attempt to appear to be doing something while in reality they are kicking things into the long grass."

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