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More evidence of Sri Lanka’s use of cluster munitions and white phosphorous bombs

Following a UN demining expert’s discovery this week of unexploded cluster munitions used by Sri Lankan forces during the island’s war, a medical worker has told Associated Press of seeing civilians' wounds caused by the outlawed weapons.

Many of the thousands of civilians wounded in the government offensive against the Tamil Tigers also had burns consistent with those caused by incendiary white phosphorus bombs, the medical worker also told AP.

White phosphorus is not specifically banned under international law, but human rights groups say its use in heavily populated civilian areas could amount to a war crime.

Cluster bombs, an 'area weapon', are canisters containing hundreds of bomblets which scatter, killing and wounding across a wide area. See picture here.

An international campaign against the use of these indiscriminate resulted in a landmark treaty in 2010.

These ongoing reports of cluster bombs being used in Sri Lanka are worrying, and we’re taking them seriously,” Laura Cheeseman, director of the Cluster Munition Coalition, which advocates for the elimination of the weapon, told AP.

Experts within the CMC network are investigating further as we speak, and we encourage the Sri Lankan government to do likewise.

The medical worker also told AP in February 2009 local UN staffers had told him that they had found shrapnel from cluster munitions around a hospital in Puthukudiyiruppu.

The facility was later moved to a makeshift hospital in the village of Putumattalan, where patients began speaking of being wounded by cluster munitions, which make an unmistakable sound, a loud explosion followed by a burst of tiny blasts, the worker said.

Then, in late March or early April 2009, a man came in with a wound in his lower leg. After the medical staff cleaned the wound, they discovered a small unexploded bomblet from cluster munitions wedged into it, the worker said.

A photograph provided to the AP showed a lateral gash in a man’s leg just below the knee with a greenish metal cylinder embedded in the tissue.

Separately, the Associated Press obtained a copy of an email written by a UN land mine expert that said unexploded cluster bomblets were discovered in the Puthukudiyiruppu area, where a boy was killed last month and his sister injured as they tried to pry apart an explosive device they had found to sell for scrap metal.

Allan Poston, the technical adviser for the UN Development Program's mine action group in Sri Lanka, wrote:

"After reviewing additional photographs from the investigation teams, I have determined that there are cluster sub-munitions in the area where the children were collecting scrap metal and in the house where the accident occurred.

"This is the first time that there has been confirmed unexploded sub-munitions found in Sri Lanka."