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Laos places hope in cluster bomb ban at Berlin talks
Published in Saudi Press Agency on 26 - 06 - 2009

The Deputy Foreign Minister of Laos, Bounkeut
Sangsomsak, said his country had high hopes for a treaty banning the
use of cluster bombs as nations concluded a conference on the subject in Berlin today, according to dpa.
"Laos, the most affected nation by cluster munitions, has high
expectations from the implementation of the Convention on Cluster
Munitons," Sangsomsak said at the end of the two-day meeting.
Once active, the convention will prohibit the use, production,
stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs. The document, drawn up in
Oslo last December, is undergoing ratification by 98 signatory
states.
The Berlin conference, organized by the German Foreign Office,
focused on ways of destroying military stockpiles of the weapon. A
total of 275 people attended from 89 countries.
Mingling amongst the statesmen were also a handful of cluster bomb
survivors who had lost limbs, suffered serious injury or lost family
members to the weapon.
One of these was Aynalem Zenebe, an Ethiopian teenager who was hit
by a cluster bomb ten years ago, at the age of seven. A slight limp
was the only visible sign that, under her flowing white dress, one of
her limbs is artificial.
"I lost my leg," Zenebe said, talking about the cluster bomb which
was dropped from a plane over her school as she was walking home one
day, and which killed many of her friends.
"I could not realize at the time what had happened to me and how
it would be," the teenager added.
Her own experience motivated Zenebe to join the group of Ban
Advocates, victims of cluster bombs campaigning for the weapon's
abolishment.
Cluster weapons - criticized for their high risk of maiming or
killing civilians - can be launched from the air or via artillery
shells and can disperse hundreds of bomblets over a target area.
"When I go back to the time and remember it, I don't feel good
because of what happened to me," Zenebe said. "But when I see people
experiencing the same as me, I feel more than just my own pain."
"This has of course to be stopped, and this is why I am here,"
Zenebe said, adding that it was crucial to keep lobbying for the
cluster bomb treaty to be signed and implemented.
Thomas Nash of the Cluster Munition Coalition, an umbrella group
representing 300 non-governmental organisations, said the Berlin
talks continued the momentum from Oslo, where the convention was
approved six months ago.
On Thursday, Germany announced it would soon join the 10 countries
that had already ratified the treaty, with a host of other states,
including Japan, Slovenia and Croatia, expected to follow soon.
"It's really shown that the political will is there and is very
strongly behind this process," Nash said, adding that it was
encouraging to see such initiative to destroy stockpiles before the
treaty was even in place.
The convention will come into effect six months after 30 states
have ratified the document, giving countries an 8-year deadline to
destroy any stockpiles of the weapon.
While the destruction of current stockpiles is an important goal,
it is arguably far more urgent to remove cluster munitions from
former conflict zones.
In Laos, the deadly munitions are embedded in the land as a
lasting legacy of the Vietnam War.
Unexploded submunitions not only make farming dangerous but also
tend to harm children, since they sometimes mistake the bomblets for
toys.
During the Berlin talks, Laos offered to host the first meeting of
state parties in November 2010, by which stage the convention is
expected to be active.
"By attending this conference in Laos, participants will be able
to witness the magnitude of destruction caused by cluster munitions,"
Sangsomsak said, stressing the urgency of clearing the land so people
could enjoy a safe livelihood.


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