Cluster bombs killed or maimed over 400 people in 2015, and one third of victims are children, an international watchdog has reported. Activists cited "compelling evidence" the Russians used the munitions in Syria.
Around 97 percent of cluster bomb victims are civilians, with most of them dying in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine, the Cluster Munition Coalition said on Thursday.
"The suffering is still continuing and civilians continue to be the predominant victims of cluster bombs," said Jeff Abramson, program manager at Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor.
The activists are currently seeing "a new spate of people being injured," he told the Reuters news agency from Geneva.
According to the latest Coalition report, cluster bombs killed or injured 417 people last year, with children making up one third of the casualties. The actual number of victims is likely to be much higher, activists said.
Cluster bombs consist of canisters that contain smaller explosive charges or bomblets. They are designed to disperse in mid-air, covering a large area. Canisters that fail to activate in flight effectively turn into landmines on the ground. They remain dangerous for decades after the conflict is over, as proven by the devices dropped by the United States in Vietnam.
Children sometimes activate the unexploded charges, drawn by their bright colors and toy-like appearance.
Evidence of attacks in Syria
The Thursday report noted a sharp increase in cluster bomb attacks in Syria since the beginning of the Russian air campaign.
"There is compelling evidence that Russia is using cluster munitions in Syria and/or directly participating with Syrian government forces in attacks" on opposition-held areas or rebel groups, the activists said. Saudi forces were also accused of using the controversial weapons during their air campaign in Yemen.
Human Rights Watch echoed the statement, saying that "Russia appears largely responsible for the significant increase in cluster munition attacks," on Thursday.
Moscow has repeatedly denied using cluster bombs.
Textron bows out
The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions banned the use, stockpiling and production of weapons. Although a total of 119 countries now accept the resolution, the signatories do not include the United States, Russia, China, and several other large arms exporting countries.
The anti-cluster bomb convention foresees destruction of existing bombs and cleaning of contaminated areas
Thursday's report was released ahead of the sixth summit of signatory countries in Geneva, which is set for next week.
The largest US manufacturer of cluster bombs, Textron, said earlier this week it was ending the production of the weapons. The company said current political situation was affecting the sales.