BRUSSELS, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Belgium Thursday became the first country in the world to outlaw the manufacture, trade, storage and use of cluster bombs.
The bill to ban the lethal devices was adopted by a thumping majority in the lower house of parliament after weeks of debate. The upper house approved the measure in July.
Cluster bombs, which can be dropped from aircraft or fired by artillery, scatter smaller explosive devices on contact. Human rights groups claim the bombs kill and maim thousands of innocent victims a year in such places as Kosovo and Iraq as a result of civilians picking up or stepping on unexploded devices.
Handicap International, which has launched a worldwide campaign to outlaw the weaponry, welcomed the decision. However, the charity expressed disappointment at a last-minute compromise amendment which will allow cluster bombs that exclusively strike military targets to be manufactured.
"If industry is capable of producing a weapon that exclusively strikes tanks and military targets, which does not harm civilian populations, which does not touch the person who is unfortunately five to ten meters from the tank, why not?" said Handicap International's Stan Brabant. "But I don't know such a weapon," he added.
At least one Belgian firm -- Forges de Zeebrugge -- produces the bombs. More than 200 company employees protested against the decision ahead of the vote, according to the Belga news agency.