By Andras Gergely
DUBLIN (Reuters) - A draft treaty for a worldwide ban on cluster munitions was adopted on Wednesday although major powers including the United States did not attend the meeting.
The Dublin gathering attended by more than 100 nations made the final step towards agreement after a promise from Britain to stop using the devices. Cluster bombs can cause indiscriminate injury long after a conflict has ended.
Diplomats and activists said the text built on the lessons from the 1997 treaty to ban landmines and it did not allow exceptions.
"It's a strong and robust prohibition on all known cluster munitions," Christian Ruge, a member of the Norwegian delegation, told Reuters after a meeting that Russia and China also did not attend.
The draft will be submitted to a plenary session on Friday but approval is now regarded as a formality. Unless any unexpected objections derail the process, the treaty is due to be signed in Oslo in December.
Cluster munitions open in mid-air and scatter as many as several hundred "bomblets" over a wide area. They often fail to explode, creating virtual minefields that can kill or injure anyone who finds them later, often curious children.
Despite the draft treaty, the United States said it still opposed a ban on cluster munitions.
U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the elimination of cluster bombs from U.S. stockpiles would put the lives of U.S. soldiers and those of their allies at risk.
"While the United States shares the humanitarian concerns of those in Dublin, cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility," said Casey.
Activists have accused the United States of pressing allies such as Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Australia to try to weaken the treaty.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been pushing his reluctant military to ban the use of the munitions and ordered a Ministry of Defense review earlier this month.
"In order to secure as strong a convention as possible, in the last hours of negotiation we have issued instructions that we should support a ban on all cluster bombs, including those currently in service by the UK," Brown said on Wednesday.
France said last Friday it would withdraw a type of munition that accounted for 90 percent of its cluster bomb stocks.
The last major issues to be resolved centre on military cooperation with countries still using cluster bombs and whether non-signatories such as the United States could keep stockpiles of such weapons in states that have signed up to the ban.
Steve Goose, arms director at New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said Wednesday's agreement was a success for activists but a section in the text about military cooperation with non-signatories was a partial American victory.
"The US won some concessions on the issue of interoperability," the HRW statement said. "The draft treaty text contains a loophole."
Cluster bombs can be dropped from aircraft or fired in missiles or artillery shells and have been used in conflicts including Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, the Balkans and by Israel in southern Lebanon as recently as 2006.
Below: Rasha Zayoun, 16, shows her wounds, cause by an Israeli cluster bomb, as she sits next to a prosthetic limb fitted with a black and gold velcro shoe at her home in Maarake village, southern Lebanon, July 9, 2007. An international conference accepted on Wednesday a draft treaty to ban the use of cluster munitions.
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