Cluster bomb challenge to ministers

Cluster bomb challenge to ministers

Times (Londen) 6 april 2003
Jonathon Carr-Brown

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CABINET ministers are under pressure to justify the use of cluster bombs in Iraq. An anti-landmine group has written to them, asking how they square the use of the bombs with the government's stand against landmines.

Left-wing politicians such as Clare Short, the international development secretary, have refused to condemn the use of the bombs, which leave hundreds of deadly explosive "bomblets" scattered around the battlefield.

Even Ann Clwyd, the Labour MP for Cynon Valley, who has campaigned vociferously against the international arms trade, has found commenting on the use of cluster bombs in Iraq difficult.

Clwyd said she had her views but did not want to comment. She is also the founder of Indict, which has campaigned for years to have Saddam Hussein indicted for crimes against humanity. Friends said she was torn between her dislike of cluster bombs and her desire to see the Iraqi regime toppled.

Richard Lloyd, director of Landmine Action, said it had written to members of the cabinet asking them to justify the use of cluster bombs but had been told by every minister to take the matter up with the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Last week Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, defended the use of the bombs, saying they were "perfectly legal" and had a "highly legitimate role" on the battlefield.

However, Lloyd claimed they had a high failure rate and disputed figures put out by the MoD that only 5% did not explode on impact.

Air Chief Marshall Sir Peter Squire, chief of the air staff, admitted on Friday for the first time that British pilots had used 50 BL755 cluster bombs against Republican Guard targets well outside Baghdad.

Each of the Pounds 125,000 bombs breaks into 147 bomblets, but Landmine Action claims that up to 10% do not explode on impact. A spokesman for Unicef, the United Nations' children's fund, said the threat to children in particular was exacerbated because coalition food rations being handed out in Iraq were yellow - the colour of some cluster bombs being used by coalition forces. British cluster bombs are black.

After the Kosovo campaign, an estimated 20,000 bomblets remained in a highly sensitive state, said the UN Mine Action Co-ordination Centre. The International Committee of the Red Cross said there had been at least 50 deaths and 101 injuries from cluster bomblets after that conflict.

The MoD said the use of cluster bombs in Iraq was being monitored and their positions were being marked to help in a clean-up.