Vietnam "studying' to sign cluster bomb treaty

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Vietnam has announced that it is "supportive" of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CMC), though it has yet to sign on to the international treaty.

"Vietnam is completely supportive of the humanitarian purposes of the CMC and has been studying matters relating to entering into this Convention" said Nguyen Phuong Nga, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a recent statement.

The statement was released following questions from local media about whether Vietnam would sign the treaty that will enter into force on August 1 of this year.

The international treaty was publicly unveiled at a convention in Oslo in 2008.

Since then, 107 countries have signed the treaty and 37 countries have ratified it. By signing the treaty, according to Conor Fortune, communications and media director for the CMC, states commit themselves to a 10-year effort to clear unexploded ordinance, ban the transportation and stockpiling of cluster munitions and assist victims.

It may take a few months or a few years for a country to ratify the treaty after signing it, said Fortune. The ratification process involves ensuring that all national laws are amended to meet the conditions of the CMC treaty.

On August 1, the treaty will become legally binding international law. Up until that time, all countries wishing to join the CMC have the option of signing or ratifying the treaty. After that time, interested nations will have to accede to the treaty essentially sign and ratify the treaty simultaneously. Accession, Fortune said, will be a more difficult process.

"Laos is the most affected state in the world," Fortune added. "They're taking a real leadership role." Laos will host the first meeting of state parties to the CM on November 8-12. The small landlocked nation, battered by the worst bombing campaigns in the history of the world, has fully ratified the treaty.

The US, Russia and China have yet to sign the treaty, Fortune said. "The UK has; 20 out of 28 NATO countries have."

Under the CMC, small "affected" nations lacking the resources to fulfill the ten year goals of clearing all landmines and unexploded ordinance will be assisted by wealthier "donor" nations. "[Under the treaty] countries that have the resources are obligated to give help to countries that are affected," Fortune said. He believes Vietnam's signing of the treaty would open it up to a great deal of foreign aid.

In May, the Cluster Munition Coalition highlighted Vietnam as the third in a series of countries that the organization included in a global campaign to promote the signing and ratification of the treaty. The coalition is an international collection of around 350 NGOs working in some 90 countries to encourage action against cluster bombs.

Official figures show that the US dropped 413,130 tons of sub-munitions on Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. Unexploded cluster sub-munitions still plague most of Vietnam's provinces and continue to claim civilian victims.

The leftover bombs and mines used by the Americans in the Vietnam War have left fallow 4,359 square kilometers of once-fertile soil, or 5.43 percent of the country's total arable land, the Ministry of Defense said in 2003.

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