Pope calls for strong, credible accord against cluster bombs

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GENOA, Italy -- Pope Benedict XVI called for a "strong and credible" international accord against cluster bombs, and he offered prayers for their victims around the world.

The pope made the remarks in the northern Italian city of Genoa May 18, on the eve of a major international conference on cluster munitions in Dublin, Ireland.

The Vatican repeatedly has called for a ban on cluster bombs, which scatter hundreds of submunitions or bomblets over a wide area. Most casualties of these weapons are civilian, and a high percentage of those killed or maimed are children.

The pope said the Dublin conference was an important event.

"I hope that thanks to the responsibility of all the participants a strong and credible international instrument can be adopted. We need to remedy the errors of the past and make sure they are not repeated in the future," he said.

Representatives from more than 100 countries are participating in the Dublin conference, which runs May 19-30.

Several major powers, including the United States, are not attending; the United States has expressed concern that a ban would restrict what it sees as the legitimate use of such weapons.

Recent studies have estimated that up to 98 percent of cluster-weapon victims are civilians. The weapons have a high rate of failure, and unexploded munitions can remain on the ground for years before being detonated accidentally.

They pose a particular danger to children, as they are easily attracted to the bomblets' bright colorful casings, mistaking the explosives for toys.

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