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[casi] Allies resist call to clear up lethal aftermath

Allies resist call to clear up lethal aftermath of war
By Severin Carrell
02 November 2003

The British and US governments have significantly watered down efforts to
create a legal obligation to clear up millions of unexploded bombs and mines
in former war zones such as Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Laos, aid agencies

The protocol is due to be finalised during the last round of negotiations
among more than 90 countries, including Russia and China, in Geneva later
this month. It is designed to extend and strengthen the UN Convention on
Conventional Weapons, but there are fears that the negotiations could
collapse because of deepening divisions over the scope of the new rules.

Ministers face intensifying pressure this week to cut back on use of
controversial cluster bombs, blamed for causing 50 casualties every week in
Iraq. British aid agencies, including the Princess Diana Memorial Fund,
yesterday launched "landmine action week", a series of protests and
fundraising events designed to highlight the global plight of civilians
exposed to unexploded armaments.

However, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Britain's Landmine
Action have accused the UK and US of weakening attempts to legally require
signatories to clear up all undetonated and faulty bombs, missiles and
landmines. They claim the draft protocol, which has been seen by The
Independent on Sunday, greatly reduces the obligations on military powers to
take responsibility for their unexploded bombs during and after a war.

Instead, the latest draft suggests military powers can refuse to clear up
battlefields, pay for independent clear-up operations or merely give out
detailed information on their use of these bombs, if their opponents or the
local controlling power will not co-operate with them directly.

The draft also regularly uses phrases such as "where appropriate", "as far
as feasible", "as far as practicable", "in appropriate circumstances" and
"subject to their legitimate security interests". These conditions, critics
claim, offer signatories a series of major loopholes and allow them to duck
their obligations.

Observers believe that Britain, while publicly endorsing calls for a legally
binding declaration, has privately supported US reservations about the
protocol in an attempt to keep the Bush administration on board. The Foreign
Office is thought to want to avoid repeating the case of the Ottawa Treaty
banning anti-personnel landmines, which the US refused to sign. China and
Russia, however, are said to favour much tougher rules.

Richard Lloyd, the director of Landmine Action, said: "Although the protocol
could be a legally binding piece of international law, its measures are
either extremely weak or essentially voluntary." Lou Maresca, the ICRC's
legal adviser on landmines, agreed. "We have concerns that the latest draft
is rather weak," he said, adding: "It's vague on a number of key issues and
it relies on the notion of co-operation, which allows claims of
non-cooperation to be a justification to do nothing. For a party reading
this instrument, it's not necessarily clear what they should or shouldn't

The Foreign Office insisted last week it would push for a legally binding
agreement, but refused to be drawn on its contents. "Negotiations are still
ongoing," said one source. "At the moment, they're prejudging the
situation." The disagreement will heighten the controversy over Britain's
use of cluster bombs in Iraq, where UN agencies estimate that at least 1,000
people have been hurt since the war ended.

The Ministry of Defence's efforts to clear up unexploded bombs in Iraq have
been criticised by aid agencies as being far too slow. They are also limited
to areas of military value, and are paid for from British overseas aid funds
rather than by the MoD, the agencies add. The UN says 17,000 Afghans face
injury or death over the next decade because US and British mine- and
bomb-clearing efforts are too slow and poorly funded.

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