By Paul Waugh, Independent Deputy Political Editor (30 May 2003)
The Government admitted during the war on Iraq that the use of cluster bombs against civilian targets would "not be legal", a letter obtained by The Independent has revealed.
Anti-landmine charities claimed last night that the letter by Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, proved that the Ministry of Defence had broken international law by using the munitions in towns and cities.
Mr Ingram admitted for the first time yesterday that cluster bombs were dropped on "built-up areas" in Iraq in an attempt to protect British servicemen. After initially denying the charge in an interview with the BBC, the minister said the unguided weapons, which release hundreds of bomblets, were used "in specific circumstances where there is a threat to our troops".
But on 25 March, five days after the conflict began, Mr Ingram responded on behalf of Tony Blair to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund to set out the Government's position on the weapons.
Mr Ingram stressed that the British armed forces strove to act in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. "It is clear that when we apply these principles there will be occasions when the use of cluster bombs against certain targets would not be legal," he wrote. "There will be occasions when the use of other munitions would be legal but the use of cluster bombs would not."
Richard Lloyd, director of the charity Landmine Action, said the letter, with yesterday's admission, proved the Geneva Conventions were knowingly breached. "Mr Ingram has admitted the Government acted outside the law," he said.