‘Positive Signs’ at Cluster Bomb Meet in Laos

Non-government delegates to last week’s cluster munitions meeting in Laos said they left encouraged that Cambodia might eventually sign a UN convention banning the weapons. But signs of this are modest, they said.

“They left some doors open,” Jeroen Stol, country director of Handicap International Belgium, said yesterday of Cambodia’s delegation to the meeting. “These openings give us…something to work on because it’s not a definite ‘no.'”

A four-day meeting of countries that have either ratified or signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions ended in Vientiane on Friday. Cambodia and a dozen other countries that have yet to sign the convention sent observers.

The convention, which took effect in the first 30 countries last August, bans the use, development, production and stockpiling of all cluster munitions. In Laos, the parties also added their names to the Vientiane Declaration, agreeing to accelerate cluster bomb clearance and expand victim services, as well as a new action plan that requires them to come up with a timeline and budget for these goals.

Having yet to become party to the convention, Cambodia could sign neither.

The country’s delegate to the meeting, Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority Deputy Secretary-General Prum Sopheak Monkol, said the government remained committed to the convention’s goals. But he also reiterated the government’s position that it needed more time to assess the treaty’s implications for “national security.”

Though Mr Sopheak Monkol steered clear of any specific explanation of Cambodia’s reluctance to sign, defense officials have in the past cited tensions with Thailand, which has a long-running border dispute with Cambodia and has also yet to sign the cluster bomb treaty.

Sister Denise Coghlan of Jesuit Refugee Service, who attended the meeting, said she drew hope from Cambodia’s last-minute decision just to send an observer.

“The fact that they decided to send someone is itself a positive sign,” she said.

Ms Coghlan said she was also encouraged by the demining team Cambodia recently sent to Lebanon, which will host the meeting of parties to the Cluster Munitions Convention next year.

“So we can see this as a positive sign of Cambodia’s commitment to ridding the world of this weapon,” she said.


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