London (CNSNews.com) - A charity set up as a memorial to Diana, the late Princess of Wales, has called for the U.S.-led alliance to stop using cluster bombs in raids on Afghanistan.
The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund is best known for its campaigning against landmines. The charity's chief executive, Andrew Purkis, told CNSNews.com Thursday that bomblets used in cluster bombs sometimes fail to explode and "act as landmines, threatening civilian life."
"There's a special kind of collateral damage that happens over time due to unexploded bomblets," Purkis said. "We find it very hard to reconcile that with the declared aims of the allies, who have said they are attempting to minimize civilian casualties."
Purkis said the group might drop its opposition to the bombs "if there was an overriding military reason to use them."
"Even then, there must be an unambiguous guarantee that the cleanup of unexploded ordinance will be a top priority once the conflict is over," he said.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense (MoD) said Thursday that there is no reason to rethink the use of cluster bombs in war.
MoD spokesman Guy Boswell said by phone that about 200 cluster bombs have been dropped by U.S. planes on five targets near Herat and Jalalabad.
"They are always dropped on legitimate targets," Boswell said. "They're used against vehicles -- they are not anti-personnel devices and they don't contain landmines."
Cluster bombs were developed in the 1960s and were extensively used in Vietnam, the Gulf War and the 1999 NATO action against Yugoslavia.
After being dropped from the air, the bomb opens and scatters smaller bombs - bomblets - over a wide area.
U.S. forces most commonly use the CBU-87/B cluster bomb. Dropped from 40,000 feet, the bomb can steer to a target area within a nine-mile radius and contains 202 bomblets, each about the size of a soft drink can. The bomblets usually cover an area about the size of eight football fields.
The main advantage of such weapons is that they can be used against a variety of enemy installations covering significant swaths of land, rather than having to pinpoint individual targets.
The call to end cluster bomb use has been joined by the International Red Cross and Landmine Action, a London-based association of 45 non-governmental organizations.
A report by Landmine Action citing U.S. and U.K. government statistics estimated that the failure rate for bomblets is anywhere between five and twenty percent.
"In Kosovo, about 35,000 bomblets were left unexploded," Purkis said. "Even today, one person is killed every week by unexploded ordinance in Yugoslavia."
Purkis also noted that the bombs render areas of land unusable.
"The fact that areas of land will be out of action, that people won't be able to use farmland, is an important consideration, with the reports that we have that starvation in Afghanistan is not far away," he said.
The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund was established after the Princess' death in a Paris car crash in 1997.
"During Diana's lifetime, she showed great concern for the victims of landmines, and we try to carry that mission forward in the spirit of her work," Purkis said.