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Over 100 nations set to address UN forum on small arms

Over 100 nations set to address UN forum on small arms

Seeking to address the destabilizing - and often deadly - effect of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, ministers from around the world will gather at the United Nations next Monday for a two-week conference aimed at hammering out a concrete and coordinated response to the threat.

The UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects will aim to find ways to curb and eliminate illicit trafficking in such weapons, including pistols, assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, shoulder-fired anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. UN officials have stressed that the forum is not about outlawing the legal manufacture or trade of these weapons, nor their legal, private ownership.

The Conference is expected to adopt a politically binding declaration, containing a programme of action with measures that States can take at the national, regional and international levels to deal with small arms and light weapons, which were the armaments of choice in 46 of the 49 major conflicts fought in the 1990s. Those conflicts killed some 4 million people, 80 per cent of them women and children.

An estimated 50 to 60 per cent of the world's trade in small arms is legal, but legally exported weapons often find their way into the illicit market, according to the UN. This includes leftovers from the cold war, especially in developing countries, such as Afghanistan, which alone has some 10 million light weapons. Arms stolen or captured from State security forces provide another major source of black market supply around the world. According to UN experts, the problem is compounded by irresponsible behaviour on the part of some States, and the lack of capacity to detect and seize illicit weapons on the part of others.

Conference organizers say that some 120 Member States have signed up to address the forum, which has also attracted the participation of representatives of 177 non-governmental organizations (NGOs).