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UN declares war on small arms
By Thalif Deen

NEW YORK - Alarmed at the widespread proliferation of small arms, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has asked the Security Council to find ways to enable countries to trace more than 255 million illicit light weapons freely available on the black market.

"The spread of illicit small arms and light weapons is a global threat to human security and human rights," Annan said in a report. Warning of the dangers of proliferation, he said that there were an estimated 639 million small arms in the world today, nearly 60 percent of them legally held by civilians.

Annan wants the Security Council to help member states monitor the remaining 40 percent, or 255 million small arms, which are traded illegally in the black market. "These arms fuel, intensify and contribute to the prolongation of conflicts," he warned. "As a conflict is prolonged, the need for more arms and ammunition grows, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle."

The report said that at least 500,000 people died every year from small arms and light weapons. Of the estimated four million war-related deaths during the 1990s, about 90 percent of those killed were civilians, and 80 percent were women and children, "mostly victims of the misuse of small arms and light weapons".

In July 2001, the United Nations hosted the Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, which discussed national, regional and global strategies to stem the flow of weapons. Among the proposals is a voluntary obligation on the part of arms manufacturers to mark every single piece of military equipment - particularly rifles and handguns - with embedded serial numbers.

Jayantha Dhanapala, UN undersecretary general for disarmament affairs, said that one of the most promising areas was the UN's "weapons for development" program, which rewards communities, rather than individuals, for turning in weapons. "It was felt that to offer individual cash incentives to people illicitly holding weapons would have an inflationary impact, besides sending out the wrong message," Dhanapala said.

A pilot project is being assessed in the Albanian village of Gramsh, where the number of homicides fell from 40 in the year preceding the project to one in the six months after it began. It asks local citizens to identify and implement development projects, which should generate enough employment and income to become sustainable.

Dhanapala said that the United Nations was also implementing a weapons-for-development project in Niger and Cambodia.

In Sri Lanka, illicit arms have become widely available due to the 19-year-old military conflict. Most were smuggled in from foreign countries or recycled from other conflict areas through sophisticated networks. As well, an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 soldiers have deserted the Sri Lankan armed forces, many keeping their weapons, some of which have been used to commit crimes, while others have been sold illegally for profit.

Dhanapala said that these weapons had been linked to a sharp increase in crime, armed robbery, rape and drug trafficking, contributing to growing levels of insecurity and political stability in the country.

(Inter Press Service)
Oct 1, 2002



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