Kuwait - British military commanders on Thursday denied media reports that they were using cluster bombs in and around the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

"I can categorically state that British forces are not using any type of cluster munitions, either from the air or with artillery," British military spokesperson Colonel Chris Vernon told a briefing in Kuwait.

Cluster bombs, which spread a shower of bomblets that explode on impact or when they are touched on the ground, are controversial because they can also cause injuries to unsuspecting civilians.

The BBC had reported that British forces used the bombs during an air campaign close to Basra, Iraq's second city of 1,5 million people, located about 550km south-east of Baghdad.

British forces have secured much of the perimeter of the city since reaching its outskirts early in the 15-day war to oust President Saddam Hussein.

But loyalists of Saddam's Baath party have demonstrated much tougher resistance than expected to the US-led invasion.

Vernon said the British had cluster bombs and would use them in conventional warfare against Iraqi regular forces.

"We fully reserve the right, it's a legitimate munition, to use against Iraqi regular forces, where appropriate," he said, adding that British forces had stopped short of using cluster-type bombs because of the risk of civilian casualties.

"We are not using cluster munitions, for obvious collateral damage reasons, in and around Basra. It's not worth our while doing that. Time and time again, we have pulled back from any engagement where the balance of risk goes the other way," he said.

The US military said on Wednesday that US B-52 bombers had - for the first time - dropped six new precision-guided cluster bombs on Iraqi tanks defending Baghdad.