Britain joins talks aimed at banning cluster bombs

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Britain is to phase out "dumb" cluster bombs and join negotiations aimed at imposing global limits on their use.

The Government will use talks concerning conventional weapons in Geneva to urge world powers to phase out munitions which are "dumb" - those that have no self-destruct or targeting mechanism.

Campaigners had accused Britain of attempting to block talks on a ban. But in a significant change of policy, ministers have agreed to enter discussions amid widespread international concern at Israel's use of cluster bombs in southern Lebanon which has left an estimated one million unexploded bomblets littering the country.

The impetus for the move came from Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, who told cabinet colleagues that the weapons were "essentially equivalent to landmines," which are the subject of an international ban. He won the backing of Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, and Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, and is said to be delighted at the decision.

A Foreign Office spokes-man said yesterday: "It would not be appropriate to pre-empt the outcome of these talks at this stage, but the discussions will consider ways to prevent the indiscriminate use of cluster munitions. The Government agrees that we need to maximise our efforts to minimise the humanitarian damage caused by cluster munitions."

He insisted that Britain uses all weapons "in strict compliance with international humanitarian law", adding: "We also call upon all states to comply fully with international humanitarian law and encourage the phasing out of 'dumb' cluster munitions, as the UK is doing."