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Study says almost all cluster bomb victims are children

As many as 98 per cent of victims of cluster bombs over the past three decades have been civilians, a third of them children, a report has disclosed.

The study of 24 countries and regions by the humanitarian pressure group Handicap International showed that the weapons, still being used by government forces including those of the UK, have killed or maimed 11,044 people.

This is the first attempt to collate data about cluster-bomb victims worldwide, and it warns that under-reporting of cases in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam means the real figure could be almost 10 times higher.

Around 27 per cent of the victims were children, mainly boys who were working or playing in areas where the munition had been used.

Angelo Simonazzi, Handicap International's director general, said: "For 30 years, governments have failed to address the disproportionate, long-term harm these weapons cause to civilian populations. Cluster munitions are imprecise weapons designed to strike a large surface area. They indiscriminately kill and injure."

Cluster bomblets - or submunitions - are packed into artillery shells or bombs dropped from aircraft. Up to 600 bomblets are typically scattered over an area the size of a football field from a single cluster-bomb canister fired to destroy airfields or tanks and soldiers.

Usually 10 to 15 per cent - but in some cases up to 80 per cent - of the bomblets fail to explode immediately. Those that don't explode can be detonated later by the slightest disturbance.

The UN says 100,000 bomblets failed to explode in the recent war in Lebanon. Handicap says cluster munitions still cause up to three casualties a day in south Lebanon.