NATO cluster bombs take their toll in Kosovo
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia, Apr 28, 1999 (AFP) - When seven cousins from the Koxha [Albanian] family found a yellow tube attached to a mushroom-shaped cloth in a pasture, they thought it was a toy.
They did not imagine it was a cluster bomb that would soon kill five of them and seriously injure two others, said Besnik Koxha, one of the wounded survivors.
The Koxhas, ethnic Albanians from Doganovic village, 55 kilometers (30 miles) south of Pristina, were among the latest casualties of cluster bombs dropped on Kosovo by NATO warplanes.
Rade Grbic [a Serb], director of the main hospital in Kosovo's capital Pristina, said his staff has treated "between 300 and 400" people wounded by cluster bombs since NATO raids began March 24.
"But there were also many people killed by these bombs," he said.
Besnik Hoxha, 14, and his brother Ardijen, 2, suffered shrapnel injuries even though they were at least 20 meters (yards) from their five cousins who played with the cluster bomb when it went off, Grbic said.
"I have worked in this crisis region for 15 years and treated many injuries, but I have never seen such horrific wounds as those caused by cluster bombs," he says.
"These wounds lead most often to disability, people lose their limbs."
Cluster bombs are most commonly used against concentrations of tanks and infantry soldiers on a battlefield, according to a source close to the Yugoslav army in Kosovo.
"The yellow tubes and so-called 'parachutes' found throughout the province indicate that most of the cluster bombs dropped by NATO in Kosovo come from a CBU-87 system," the source said.
"This system consists of more than 200 mini-cluster bombs loaded in a dispenser which is delivered by aircraft," he said.
"At a certain height, the dispenser releases the bombs," he said. "But not all of them explode when they fall in the field."
At NATO headquarters in Brussels, an official confirmed that the alliance is using cluster bombs, but only those designed to destroy tanks [sic!] and other armored vehicles.
"There are two types -- anti-material and anti-personnel," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We are using the first."
But he acknowledged that civilians could become casualties if they tamper with unexploded cluster bombs.
According to the authoritative "Jane's Air-Launched Weapons" directory, the US-made CBU-87 "combined effects munition" is a "free-fall cluster bomb" comprising 202 "multi-purpose bomblets."
Each bomblet is capable of "defeating up to 177mm (seven inches) of armor," and has fire-starting capabilities as well, Jane's said.
But it added: "The bomblet also has a fragmenting case which gives it a good anti-material/personnel capability."
In a combat zone like Kosovo, civilians and military live and operate close to each other which leaves great risk for civilian casualties from cluster bombs, especially those left unexploded.
An AFP reporter in Kosovo has seen dozens of unexploded cluster bombs in three places -- at [Serb monastery] Gracanica, seven kilometers southeast of Pristina; Merdare, five kilometers northeast of Podujevo, in the north; and in the area of Urosevac, in the south on the road to Macedonia.
It was in the area south of Urosevac that the five Koxha cousins were killed.
"There are villages in Kosovo where large portions of space cannot be accessed because of a huge number of unexploded bombs," Grbic said.
"Even when the war is
over, they will be a big problem, because no one knows the exact
number of unexploded cluster bombs on our territory."
Cluster bombs -- For Yugoslavia's kids, a pernicious gift
In Yugoslavia, as in every other land, children wake up on a weekend morning ready to play. They check the sky and, if it's free of clouds and F-15s, head out into the neighborhood. They play ball, kick sticks and hunt through the grass for bits of treasure. Lately they've been stumbling upon some especially alluring objects -- bright orange-yellow things the size of soda cans, and shiny spheres the size of tennis balls. The kids snatch them up. They explode. The kids lose an arm, an eye or a life.
This scenario is made possible by NATO, which has been scattering the colorful trinkets across Yugoslavia for weeks. The soda-can things are CBU-87 and RBL755 bomblets, while the bright little balls are ATACMS bomblets. None of them is meant for children, of course. They're unexploded submunitions -- the little bombs inside of cluster bombs. NATO likes to drop them on enemy airfields, because cluster bombs release a shower of explosives that then explode again -- doing great damage to planes and other equipment.
But every now and then NATO misses its mark. It drops cluster bombs not on a military installment, but on a civilian center. This happened earlier this month in the southern Yugoslavian city of Nis, when an airstrike meant for an airfield instead hit a hospital complex and a market. The damage of such a mishap doesn't end with the airstrike. That's because the bomblets inside cluster bombs don't always explode when they're dropped. A good 5 percent of them are duds -- lying in quiet wait for an unwitting walker to happen by. They become a kind of land mine, detonating when they're disturbed on the ground. Like land mines, they remain lethal years after a conflict has ended -- killing innocent civilians.
This circumstance has caught the attention of the acclaimed international group Human Rights Watch, which is calling on NATO to stop using cluster bombs. The group cites testing data that suggests that each cluster bomb leaves behind 5 to 10 duds on average. The danger posed by these bomblets is anything but theoretical: On April 24, Human Rights Watch reports, five children playing with unexploded submunitions in southern Kosovo were killed. Two were injured. The death toll is likely to increase.
NATO and Pentagon spokesmen insist the cluster bomb is an especially effective weapon in a campaign like this because of its ability to devastate a wide area. But similar arguments can be made for many other weapons already forsaken -- chemical and biological weapons, for instance. Civilized nations refrain from using them not because they're ineffective, but because they hurt civilians as well as soldiers and because their effects outlast even the longest war.
This war -- any war --
can't help but stir pangs of conscience for the thoughtful... [I]t's
impossible not to wince at the idea that Serbian children have been
left motherless by NATO jets. And it seems right to cry out in
anguish at the news that NATO's weapons are
leaving behind spangly lethal little toys that beckon to little
Yugoslavian children. Surely no wager of war -- especially
one fighting to save lives [sic!] -- should leave such a
By Norman Solomon (*)
May 12 - Hi! My name is CBU-87/B, but let's not be formal. A lot of my friends call me Cluster Bomb. I've been busy lately, doing what I'm supposed to. And I sure appreciate the careful treatment I receive from the American news media.
I get a little jealous of the exaggerated notoriety that the news media confer on outfits like the National Rifle Association. They get credited with the proliferation of murder and mayhem.
MY PALS AT THE PENTAGON put me in the category of a "Combined Effects Munition." My maker describes me as an "all-purpose, air-delivered cluster weapons system." Not to brag or anything, but such labels don't do me justice. When I explode, the results can really be awesome.
I've gotten to do my stuff in Yugoslavia this month. One of my memorable performances came at around noon on a Friday. Some people in the city of Nis were shopping at a vegetable market when "boom!" I arrived. It was dramatic as hell.
LOW MEDIA PROFILE
A news article that I found in the May 8 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that "the bombs struck next to the hospital complex and near the market, bringing death and destruction, peppering the streets of Serbia's third-largest city with shrapnel and littering the courtyards with yellow bomb casings."
This was one of my few moments in the U.S. media limelight, so forgive me while I quote some more: "In a street leading from the market, dismembered bodies were strewn among carrots and other vegetables in pools of blood. A dead woman, her body covered with a sheet, was still clutching a shopping bag filled with carrots."
I know, it's immodest to flaunt my press notices. But people don't get to see those sorts of news accounts very much in America! If the stories are reported at all, they're usually buried (ha ha) on back pages of newspapers and rarely even mentioned on the networks.
Once in a while, some Western journalist decides to put me down. The moralizing can be unpleasant. For instance, BBC correspondent John Simpson has been reporting from Belgrade, and he did a rather brusque commentary that the Sunday Telegraph in London published a few days ago.
"In Novi Sad and Nis, and several other places across Serbia and Kosovo where there are no foreign journalists, heavier bombing has brought more accidents," Simpson carped. He complained that cluster bombs "explode in the air and hurl shards of shrapnel over a wide radius." And he went on to say: "Used against human beings, cluster bombs are some of the most savage weapons of modern warfare."
Cluster bombs like me could do without the overheated pejoratives, thank you. Fortunately, we hardly ever have to endure such indignities in the American press.
But please don't forget the very real accomplishments that I can partially claim as my own. The next time you see a headline or hear a newscaster referring to the "air campaign," remember that my achievements are outrageously understated by such jargon.
IN SEARCH OF SOFT TARGETS
When those high school students died in Colorado, the news media kept saying what a horrendous tragedy it was. But what about the work I've done on kids and grownups in Yugoslavia?
You see, I'm a 1,000-pound marvel, a cluster bomb with an ingenious design. When I go off, a couple of hundred "bomblets" shoot out in all directions, aided by little parachutes that look like inverted umbrellas. Those "chutes slow down the descent of the bomblets and disperse them so they'll hit plenty of what my maker calls "soft targets." Before that happens, though, each bomblet breaks into about 300 pieces of jagged steel shrapnel.
Sometimes, as a cluster bomb, I get a little jealous of the exaggerated notoriety that the news media confer on outfits like the National Rifle Association. They get credited with the proliferation of murder and mayhem.
Well, they're rank amateurs! Piddling sidearms pushers! Compared to me, they're small-time retailers. I'm into wholesale. They don't know how to preserve, protect and defend the Grim Reaper as I do.
I just laugh when I read the nasty things that so many editorial writers and pundits have been writing about the NRA. While they rant and rail against assault rifles that take a few lives now and again in the United States, I've been busy slicing up tender human bodies in Yugoslavia.
When those high school students died in Colorado, the news media kept saying what a horrendous tragedy it was. But what about the work I've done on kids and grownups in Yugoslavia? Journalists merely echo the statements coming out of the White House, mumbling that it's regrettable and can't be helped.
The pundits keep talking about gun control. Meanwhile, big bombs like me are increasingly out of control as we roam the skies above Yugoslavia.
Overall, this has been
a great spring for me. And from the standpoint of public relations,
I'm doing fine. Back in the offices of top Washington officials, and
in the upper echelons of American news media, I've got lots of
friends in very high places. They may pretend not to know me, but we
understand each other very well.
Strictly speaking, cluster bombs are not specifically outlawed by the Geneva Conventions. In fact they are prohibited by Article 35 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions (Protocol I) which states:
"2. It is prohibited to employ weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering."
In addition, Article 13 of Protocol II additional to the Geneva Conventions, which applies to armed conflict not of an international character, provides that:
"2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. ..."
The truth belongs to us all.
Feel free to download, copy and redistribute.
Last revised: May 17, 1999