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Small Arms Destruction Day marked globally in conjunction with UN forum

Small Arms Destruction Day marked globally in conjunction with UN forum

Small Arms Destruction Day - an initiative aimed at raising awareness of the threat posed by weapons that have killed, injured and terrorized millions of people - was observed around the world today in ceremonies that also marked the opening in New York of the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons.

Together with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which supports national efforts to reduce the proliferation of small arms, Albania, Kosovo, Niger and the Solomon Islands are set to mark the day with commemorative events, including large public bonfires of illicit weapons. According to UNDP, the Philippines will hold a similar event later this month, while the Republic of Congo and Mali did so earlier this year.

In a message marking the occasion, Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that there are estimated to be at least 500 million small arms and light weapons in circulation -- one for every 12 people on earth. He cited an independent small arms survey which found that those weapons are implicated in well over a thousand deaths every single day.

"This is not just a matter of disarmament, but rather is linked to conflict prevention, human rights, humanitarian assistance, the rule of law and development," observed Mr. Annan. He added that Small Arms Destruction Day, along with the UN Conference on the issue, would help give this issue the high profile it deserved. "I look forward to working with governments, civil society groups and the general public to rid humanity of this scourge."

Robert Sharf, who heads UNDP's small arms reduction programme, said those weapons have "crippled economies and impoverished millions." He noted that the Small Arms Destruction Day events would serve to raise global awareness of these problems while helping people in the countries where the events are held "feel that concrete efforts are under-way to make their communities safer and the prospects for the future brighter."

UNDP is currently working to reduce the proliferation of small arms in Albania, the Republic of the Congo, Kosovo, Niger, El Salvador and the Solomon Islands. The agency also has plans to launch similar programmes in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere the Great Lakes region of Africa, and Haiti.