OSLO, NORWAY: Nations began signing a treaty banning cluster bombs on Wednesday in a move that supporters hope will shame the US, Russia and China
and other non-signers into abandoning weapons blamed for maiming and killing civilians.
Norway, which began the drive to ban cluster bombs 18 months ago, was the first to sign, followed by Laos and Lebanon, both hard-hit by the weapons.
Organizers said around 100 out of the world's 192 UN member nations are expected to sign.
According to the group Handicap International, 98 per cent of cluster-bomb victims are civilians, and 27 per cent are children.
The Bush administration has said that a comprehensive ban would hurt world security and endanger US military cooperation on humanitarian work with countries that sign the accord.
Activists said ahead of the signing that they hope the treaty will nonetheless shame non-signers into shelving the weapons, as many did with land mines after a 1997 treaty banning them.
``Once you get half the world on board, it’s hard to ignore a ban,'' said Australian anti-cluster bomb campaigner Daniel Barty. ``One of the things that really worked well with the land-mine treaty was stigmatization. No one really uses land mines,'' he said.
The anti-cluster bomb campaign gathered momentum after Israel's month-long war against Hezbollah in 2006, when it scattered up to 4 million bomblets across Lebanon, according to UN figures.
``In southern Lebanon, for more than two years, children and the elderly have been victimized (by cluster munitions),'' Lebanese foreign minister Fawzi Saloukh said.
Norway called a conference to ban cluster bombs in February 2007. In May, more than 100 countries agreed to ban cluster bombs within eight years.
The treaty must be ratified by 30 countries before it takes effect.
``I think it's awesome that 100 countries are coming to Oslo to sign (the new cluster bomb treaty),'' said American Jody Williams, who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to ban land mines.
Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles that scatter them over vast areas. Some fail to explode immediately. The unexploded bomblets can then lie dormant for years until they are disturbed, often by children attracted by their small size and bright colours.