Vietnam urged to sign cluster bomb treaty

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Vietnam should shed its caution and sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions without further delay, activists say.

"Vietnam has everything to gain and nothing to lose by joining the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The deadline for clearance is designed to ensure both donors and affected countries accelerate their work and treat the cluster bomb problem as an urgent concern," Thomas Nash, Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) Coordinator, told Thanh Nien Weekly via email.

The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which entered into force as binding international law on 1 August 2010, bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions and requires the destruction of stockpiles, the clearance of affected land.

The treaty also calls for provision of assistance to victims and affected communities.

To date, 108 countries have signed the treaty and 39 have ratified it.

Analysts have pointed out that Vietnam is being cautious about joining the treaty owing to concerns about some of the tough tasks laid down by the convention, like clearing affected areas within 10 years and destroying stockpiles of the weapons within eight.

"Extensions to the clearance deadline in extraordinary cases like Lao PDR and Vietnam will be well understood and not controversial. These provisions are designed to help affected countries, not to place an undue burden on them," Nash said, adding that assistance, including financial aid, should come from donors countries.

"Of course the US has a moral duty to help fund the clean up of its own bombing in Vietnam and we should continue to push the US on this even if they remain outside the treaty for now," he said.

On September 6, the coalition urged states to act urgently to meet their obligations under a new international treaty banning cluster bombs.

 "Governments created a powerful treaty outlawing cluster bombs, now they must deliver the goods," said Nash in a statement as nations gathered in Geneva to plan the convention's upcoming First Meeting of States Parties which will be held this November in Laos.

"If we carry on the strong cooperation between states, civil society, and international organizations that led to the ban, we can make a real difference in preventing civilian suffering," he said.

Vietnam has announced that it is "supportive" of the Convention on Cluster Munitions 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 statement on July 3.

Official figures show that the US dropped 413,130 tons of munitions on Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. Unexploded cluster munitions still plague many provinces, and continue to maim and kill civilians.

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

On August 30 this year, an artillery shell exploded and killed a villager in southern Vietnam as he was cutting it up for scrap metal.

Truong Hoang Hai, chief of Long Duc Village in the southern province of Soc Trang, said the explosion also seriously wounded his wife. The man was in his early 40s, Hai said.

The village chief said Long Duc was heavily bombarded and hit by artillery by the United States and its puppet government during the Vietnam War.

Colonel Nguyen Trong Canh, director of the Vietnamese Ministry of Defense's Technology Center for Bomb and Mine Disposal (BOMICEN), said it could take as many as 300 years and US$10 billion to clean unexploded ordnance nationwide.

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