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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Friday 26 March 2004

WEST AFRICA: ECOWAS seeks means to recover 8 million illicit arms in region

ABUJA, 26 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - West Africa's regional economic bloc has begun working out a framework for the recovery of an estimated eight million illicit weapons and small arms in circulation.

After a three day conference in the Nigerian capital Abuja, members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) issued a communiqué recommending the "adoption of an operational plan of action" for dealing with the proliferation of small arms in the region.

Among plans considered during the meeting was the setting up of a small arms unit by ECOWAS to coordinate activities aimed at curbing the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

ECOWAS Executive Secretary Mohammed Ibn Chambas told the conference that with "over 8 million arms in circulation" in West Africa and "half of them being used for criminal purposes," the region had become one of the most unstable in the world.

The conference finished on the same day as the United Nations Security Council heard the findings of a special report commissioned by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. That report strongly recommended greater integration between peacekeeping and security enforcement operations in the troubled West Africa region.

The conference in Abuja identified the Mano River Union area, comprising Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, as being home to most of the arms in circulation.

More than a decade of almost concurrent and inter-related conflict in those countries has seen the region flooded with a proliferation of illegal weapons.

ECOWAS is keen to contain these weapons which can be used to fuel crime and conflict. The recommendations of the Abuja conference will be presented to a summit of heads of state to consider for adoption as a plan of action, the communiqué said.


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