Countries Sign Cluster Bomb Ban

OSLO — Nations began signing a treaty banning cluster bombs Wednesday in a move that supporters hope will shame the United States, Russia and China and other nonsigners into abandoning weapons blamed for maiming and killing civilians.

Norway, which began the drive to ban cluster bombs 18 months ago, will be the first to sign, followed by Laos and Lebanon, both hard-hit by the weapons.

Organizers said 88 countries were expected to sign on Wednesday, and about 100 out of the world's 192 UN member nations will have signed by Thursday.

"Banning cluster bombs took too long. Too many people lost arms and legs," Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said as he opened the conference.

Washington, Moscow and other nonsigners say cluster bombs have legitimate military uses such as repelling advancing troop columns. But according to the group Handicap International, 98 percent of cluster-bomb victims are civilians, and 27 percent are children.

President George W. Bush's administration has said a comprehensive ban would hurt world security and endanger U.S. military cooperation on humanitarian work with countries that sign the accord.

Activists said ahead of the signing that they hope the treaty will nonetheless shame nonsigners into shelving the weapons, as many did with land mines after a 1997 treaty banning them.