Date: Sun, 16 May 1999 21:31:24 -0500 (CDT)
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NATO cluster bombs spray death
By Vesna Peric-Zimonjic, InterPress Service, 14 May 1999
BELGRADE, May 15 (IPS) - Adem Muncaj, an ethnic Albanian boy from Kosovo recently found a bright orange container that looked like a soft drink can and brought it home to his family. They are now dead.
When the soft drink can -a NATO cluster bomb - exploded, Adem, his brother and mother, his uncle, an aunt and their three daughters were killed within minutes in the village of Velika Jablanica, near the town of Pec.
Reports reaching Belgrade Friday say that 100 civilians were killed and 50 wounded by eight NATO cluster bombs dropped on the Kosovo village of Korisa at midnight.
Last week, 18 people died in the southern city of Nis, while shopping at an open market in the middle of the day, killed by cluster bombs, which also reached a nearby hospital. NATO said it was a "mistake," while planes were bombing the city's airport.
But according to western media reports, these errors are coldly calculated by expert teams who discuss the target, the munitions to be used, and the possible cost in civilian lives of every mission.
"Each time we have a target, there is a discussion about collateral damage, whether it's in the high, medium or low category. What do we think the price is and is it worth the risk," The Washington Post quoted a NATO official as saying.
NATO said the target at Nis was the airport. And the "price" was not paid by planners in Brussels nor by pilots flying at 15,000 feet, but by people at the market and hospital, registered as "collateral damage. " Was the price high, low or medium?
These mistakes, have never been depicted as a "tragedy, nor followed by a string of apologies, as in the case of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, hit by three missiles last week.
Besides the assorted NATO arsenal of weapons described by spokesmen as "smart" or "precision-guided", people in Serbia are being killed or maimed for life by the notorious cluster bombs that were never banned by any international convention.
"Cluster bombs cause enormous pain and injury," Dr. Miodrag Lazic - head of the surgical department at Nis University Hospital - told journalists.
"A person standing a metre or two away from the cluster bomb gets the so called 'air-blast' injuries, coming from a powerful air wave. The body remains mostly intact while internal organs like liver, brain or lungs are imploded inside," he said.
"Parts of the exploding bombs cause severe injuries to people standing 15 or 20 metres away, ripping apart their limbs or hitting them into stomach or head. Only those standing more than 20 metres away suffer minor injuries," Lazic explained.
According to medical and military experts, deadly injuries are practically caused both by kinetic energy and the explosive devices contained by cluster bombs, which are faster and more destructive than an automatic rifle bullet.
A military specialist explained that an automatic rifle bullet has a starting speed of 750 metres per second, while the explosive charges within cluster bombs have a starting speed of 2.500 metres per second.
When reaching their target, a human body, the combination of kinetic energy and explosive power makes a wound 30 times larger than the projectile itself.
Military experts say cluster bombs are packages or containers weighing between 50 to 250 kilograms, sometimes up to 450.
According to Aleksandar Lijakovic, a weapons expert, the containers are filled with dozens or hundreds of so-called "sub-projectiles" or tiny bombs.
The bomb container is launched from a plane, opens up at a certain altitude and the small bombs cover an ellipse-shaped area 100 by 250 metres wide. The biggest cluster bombs can cover an area three times the size of a football field.
"The main aim of cluster bomb is to hit the so called 'group military target', an area where armoured or armoured-mechanical units are deployed," Lijakovic said.
"The basic aim is to hit wide areas like air fields, command posts, artillery positions, parked trucks, or columns of armoured personnel carriers," he added.
Yugoslav military experts have identified cluster bombs used by NATO as the British-made RBL-755 type, which contains 147 small bombs, 15- centimetres long, weighing 900 grams each.
This is the "soft drink can" found by Adem, the Albanian boy. Their orange or yellowish colour makes are eye-catching and likely to be picked up by children. Some of these tiny bombs even have a timer, so they can go off several hours or days after they hit the ground.
Unlike land mines, chemical weapons or 'dum-dum' bullets, "there is no explicit ban of cluster bombs" says Konstantin Obradovic, an international law expert and Belgrade University professor.
"In the past, there were several requests for cluster bombs to be banned, but they were never shaped into any document or convention. Yet there are limitations for their use. Cluster bombs should not be used where civilians could be hurt, but they can be used in the battle fields, at front lines" he explains.
His opinion is shared by Miodrag Starcevic, professor at Belgrade's Centre for Military Studies. "There is no convention that prohibits the use of cluster bombs, but all the international armed conflict laws say that certain weapons should not be used in an indiscriminate manner", he adds.
Yugoslav military and international law experts are stunned by NATO's use of cluster bombs. Dozens of cases of civilian deaths, besides Nis or Velika Jablanica village were reported.
Civilians were killed by cluster bombs while driving their cars on roads in Kosovo, or travelling by bus in Montenegro. A three year old girl in Belgrade's Batajnica neighbourhood was instantly killed last month when cluster bombs were used against the nearby airfield.
She was in the bathroom of her family's house, sitting on a baby pot.
NATO admitted that cluster bombs were used and admitted that some "went astray," while the US-based group Human Rights Watch called for the immediate banning of this weapon.
"The best pilots in the world" -as described by the US Defence Department spokesman- have flown some 18,000 missions over Yugoslavia and dropped more than 9,000 cluster bombs, bunker bombs, depleted- uranium bombs, graphite bombs, laser-guided bombs or satellite-guided bombs.
Serbs just wonder what other marvel bomb is to be tried on them next and who is going to be the next victim of the "slight percentage" of mistakes made.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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