Britain 'is blocking' cluster bomb ban

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Campaigners will launch a campaign today to persuade the British Government to back a global ban on cluster bombs. The move coincides with the release of research suggesting that up to one million potentially lethal unexploded bomblets remain in Lebanon in the aftermath of the Israeli attacks on Hizbollah.

Activists accused Britain of blocking negotiations aimed at securing an international ban on cluster munitions when the international weapons' convention meets in Geneva next month.

They are hoping to swamp Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, with letters calling on the Government to agree to dismantle Britain's stocks of cluster bombs and back a global ban. The pressure group Landmine Action warned that civilians in southern Lebanon were being killed or maimed at a rate of two a day by hundreds of thousands of the fist-sized shells, which failed to explode during an intense bombardment at the end of this summer's conflict.

Simon Conway, the group's director, said Israel saturated southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in the 72 hours before the end of the war in August. Mr Conway said ministers were blocking attempts by several nations to open negotiations on a ban on the use of the weapons.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office called on Israel to investigate any "well founded" allegations of cluster bombs being misused.