Activist Groups Say Cluster Bombs Remain in 69 Nations

UN says campaign against cluster bombs picked up steam after the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Cluster bombs, artillery shells and missiles are still stockpiled in 69 nations a year after they were banned by a new international law, a London-based coalition of 200 activist groups said Wednesday.

The London-based Cluster Munition Coalition's tally of these destructive explosive weapons came as diplomats gathered in Geneva to debate plans for phasing them out.

The weapons pose a particular risk to civilians because they indiscriminately scatter smaller "bomblets," some as small as flashlight batteries, packed tightly into hollowed out bombs, artillery shells or missiles that can be dropped from planes or launched from the ground.

A single container targeting airfields or tanks typically scatters hundreds of the mini-explosives over an area the size of a football field. The U.S.used the weapon, a descendant of the "butterfly bomb" dropped by Nazi Germany on Britain in World War II, in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Soviet and Russian troops also used them in Angola, Afghanistan and Chechnya, where the leftover duds continue to inflict casualties, particularly on children attracted by their often eye-catching colors.

They most recently were used in April in Libya, when forces loyal to Muammar Gadhafi fired MAT-120 mortar projectiles containing 21 dual-purpose submunitions into the opposition-held city of Misrata, the activist coalition said in its annual report Wednesday.

It said Spain in June confirmed providing Libya with 1,055 cluster munitions in 2006 and 2008, before Spain joined the international convention banning them, but there have been no such reported deliveries of the weapons since the start of 2010.

The coalition said Thailand fired cluster munitions into Cambodia during border clashes in February, and both sides used them in the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.

The UN says the campaign against the weapons picked up steam after Israel's monthlong war against Hezbollah in 2006, when it scattered up to 4 million of the munitions across Lebanon.

Some 61 nations so far have adopted a new international law that went into effect on Aug. 1, 2010. The United States, however, has rejected the call, insisting the bombs are a valid weapon of war when used properly. China, Russia, India and Pakistan also reject the law.

A technical field manager inspecting a cluster bomb during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.