Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Letter to the Committee Specialist from the Parliamentary Relations and Devolution Team, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  Thank you for your letter of 5 July regarding the target dates for cluster munition clearance in south Lebanon.

  We believe the most likely explanation for the differing dates for clearing unexploded cluster bombs in Lebanon is that there are two separate deadlines: a December 2007 target for making south Lebanon "impact free"; and a mid 2008 target for completely clearing mines from south Lebanon.

  The UN Mine Action Co-ordination Centre South Lebanon (UNMACCSL) plans to make south Lebanon "impact free" of unexploded cluster bombs by December 2007. This entails clearing cluster munitions from areas where they pose the greatest threat to the civilian population, ie residential areas, roads, agricultural land and access to natural resources. To achieve this by December 2007, UNMACCL estimated, at the time of the FAC visit, that they would need an additional $1 .2million in funding. As far as we understand, this timetable still stands.

  However, it was always anticipated that it would take longer to completely clear south Lebanon of cluster munitions. So far IINMACCSL have taken slightly less than one year to oversee the clearance of 120,000 of the estimated 1 million cluster bombs dropped during the conflict in 2006. At the time Dr Howells wrote to the FAC UNMACCSL gave us to believe that it would take until mid-2008 to completely clear south Lebanon of cluster bombs. That is the target that Dr Howells was referring to in his letter, based on data provided by UNMACCSL.

  I should also note that UNMACCSL's figures themselves have been subject to fluctuation. In the absence of strike data from the Governmnet of Israel, UNMACCSL is operating without exact figures for the total number of cluster munitions fired during the conflict in 2006. As new strike areas are discovered, the timeframe gets revised. Other developments also affect the timetable as demining staff from the Lebanese Army involved in clearing south Lebanon get redeployed elsewhere, as they have done for the current operations in Nahr Al-Bared. Our latest understanding, which has been revised since Dr Howells wrote in May, is that it will now take until December 2008 to complete the work.

  I hope the Committee will therefore understand the difficulty in giving an exact end date for completion of the process given the absence of strike data and the unpredictability of political developments.

Richard Cooke

Head, PRDT

12 July 2007

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