Representatives from around 100 countries opened a 12-day conference Monday in a bid to agree a global ban on cluster bombs, one of the most lethal weapons facing civilians caught up in conflict.

The talks, at Dublin's Croke Park Gaelic sports stadium, are aiming for a wide-ranging pact that would completely wipe out the use, production and stockpiling of cluster bombs by its signatories.

"Governments have been talking about the dangers of cluster bombs for years," said Grethe Ostern, joint head of the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) umbrella group, ahead of the conference opening.

"More delays mean more injuries and death for ordinary people. We have a unique opportunity to ban cluster bombs in Dublin. It is now or never."

Cluster munitions are among the weapons which pose the gravest dangers to civilians, according to the CMC.

Dropped from warplanes or fired from artillery guns, they explode in mid-air, randomly scattering bomblets -- ramping up the risk of civilians being killed or maimed by their indiscriminate, wide-area effect.

They pose a lasting threat to civilians as well, as many bomblets fail to explode on impact.

Cluster munitions caused more civilian casualties in Kosovo in 1999 and Iraq in 2003 than any other weapon system.

In the Middle East, Israel's widespread use of cluster bombs during the 2006 war in Lebanon caused more than 200 civilian casualties in the year following the ceasefire, the CMC said.

Under the draft treaty, signatories would never use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer cluster munitions. They would also have six years to destroy their stockpiles.

(with wire services)

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This video is from, broadcast May 19, 2008.

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