Sunday, 9 December 2007

British bomblets

According to Landmine Action a new report from Lebanon presents serious challenge to UK cluster bomb policy.

On 12 November, prime minister Gordon Brown committed the UK to ban cluster bombs that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. But a new report has found that one of the UK's remaining cluster bomb types produces post-conflict contamination at a level that is unacceptable.

This week in Vienna, 136 nations met to work towards a ban on cluster munitions. The UK had previously claimed that its M85 submunitions were a solution to the cluster bomb threat. But when these same weapons were used by Israel in Lebanon in 2006 they again left areas littered with lethal explosives and have killed and injured innocent civilians trying to rebuild their lives after the war.

The new report, based on detailed on-the-ground research by the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, British bomb disposal expert Colin King (the editor of Jane's Mines and Mine Clearance), and Norwegian People's Aid found that:

"M85 bomblet reliability in combat is substantially worse than has been indicated by tests. It produces post-conflict contamination at a level that must be considered unacceptable."

NGOs believe the UK must now remove these weapons from service or lose credibility in their work on this issue. Simon Conway, Director of Landmine Action said:

"The UK has been claiming that these cluster munitions were a solution to the problem - it is now beyond doubt that this is not the case. Gordon Brown recently committed Britain to a ban on cluster bombs that harm civilians - it is time for the UK to give up the M85."

Information released under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed that British troops using these weapons in Iraq (where the UK dropped 100,000 of these M85 submunitions in 2003) were told that only 0.74% of these submunitions could be expected to fail. The new report estimates an average failure rate around 10% - and even higher in some locations.

"According to the UK's own information the troops using these weapons in Iraq should have expected only 740 unexploded duds to be left behind - but the reality may have been more like 10,000 lethal remnants. This suggests a complete failure to understand the risk that was being created for the civilian population," said Simon Conway

* The report is: M85 - An analysis of reliability, by Colin King Associates Ltd, The Norwegian Defence Research Institute and Norwegian People's Aid. Link to the report:

* 0.74% reliability is from MoD Freedom of Information Request reference: FOI: M85 proportionality assessments in Iraq PS 05-10-2007-071341-002 - R.Moyes (23/11/2007)

* Cluster munitions are weapons that can disperse hundreds of smaller submunitions - sometimes referred to as "bomblets" - over wide areas. They have indiscriminate wide area effects that kill and injure civilians during attacks and they leave severe and lasting humanitarian and development consequences from large quantities of post-conflict unexploded ordnance.

* At least 75 countries stockpile cluster munitions and 34 are known to have produced more than 210 types of cluster munitions. 14 states have used cluster munitions in at least 30 countries and territories

* Landmine Action is a co-chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) an international network of over 200 civil society organisations in 60 countries committed to protecting civilians from the effects of cluster munitions. Members of the CMC network work together on an international campaign calling on governments to conclude a new international treaty banning cluster munitions by 2008.

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