By Robert Evans
GENEVA (Reuters) - Humanitarian groups launched a campaign on Wednesday to persuade governments and rebels in conflicts worldwide to move toward abandoning the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
The groups, buoyed by success in shaping international accords on land mines and cluster munitions in recent years, said they aimed to highlight the impact of weaponry like aerial and car bombs, mortars and rockets on non-combatant civilians.
But at a news conference to present their fledgling International Network on Explosive Weapons, they made clear that the long-term aim was to get an agreement shielding civilians in civil or inter-state armed conflict.
"This is an issue with dramatic scope across countries and continents and which causes a huge amount of humanitarian suffering not only immediately but long after fighting and bombing is over," said the network's Thomas Nash.
And he pointed to reports highlighting the problem released at the United Nations in Geneva by two British-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) -- Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) and Save the Children.
"Our ongoing monitoring of bombings in populated areas paints a grim picture: at least 9,572 civilians killed and injured by explosive weapons in 63 countries over the past 6 months," said AOAV researcher Katherine Harrison.
"But we are seeing a pattern of harm that goes beyond large numbers of deaths and severe injuries -- it is also about displacement and long-term psychological, social and economic damage," Harrison declared.
Save the Children's Nick Mathew said thousands of young people had been killed in recent years by explosive weapons "while thousands more will have to live with the physical, mental, environmental and economic consequences."
Members of the network said the idea had been in preparation long before the current civil conflict in Libya and the NATO-led bombing campaign officially aimed at protecting civilians against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces.
But they said Libya, where Gaddafi is accused of bombing and strafing protesters and population centers, as well as the war in Afghanistan, civil war in Ivory Coast and the conflict around Gaza, were other examples where civilian targets were hit.
"We want governments -- and non-state actors -- to be at least more transparent about what their considerations and calculations are when they use explosive weapons against populated areas," said Nash.
Among other NGOs in the new grouping are Geneva-based Handicap International, New York-based Human Rights Watch, Norwegian People's Aid, and Oxfam International.
Several of the groups involved played major roles in the 1990s campaigning for a ban on land mines, on which governments signed an international pact in 1997, and on limiting the use of cluster weapons, signed in 2008.
(Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Mark Heinrich)