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Small Arms Destruction Efforts Reverberate Around the World

01 October 2007

Countries take steps to eliminate dangerous surplus, obsolete weapons

Washington -- Left unattended, even small stockpiles of surplus and obsolete AK-47 assault rifles, grenade launchers and shoulder-fired missiles could be stolen and used to fuel regional conflicts.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban have been launching shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles against Western aircraft.

In 2003, a German DHL cargo plane taking off from Baghdad International Airport for Bahrain was struck by a shoulder-fired missile.  The year before, an Israeli passenger plane leaving Kenya was targeted by terrorists affiliated with al-Qaida using the same kind of weapon.

In the past few decades, these shoulder-fired missiles, formally known by the military as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), in the hands of terrorists and militias have caused more than two dozen aircraft crashes and hundreds of deaths.

U.S. Representative Steve Israel of New York says MANPADS are easy to acquire and have "become a weapon of choice among terrorists."

These small arms and light weapons also pose another threat.  Old artillery shells exploded during a Central European heat wave this year, and tropical heat reportedly caused spontaneous combustion at a Mozambican weapons depot. The Mozambican incident killed more than 100 people, wounded 500 more and damaged thousands of homes.

Such incidents are propelling nations to be more active in eradicating trade in small arms and light weapons.  Weapons destruction programs are under way in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Over the years, U.S. assistance has helped destroy more than a million weapons in places like El Salvador, Suriname, Burundi, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Cambodia.  A $58 million investment in more than two dozen countries has destroyed more than 21,000 MANPADS and 90 million ammunition clips.

The United States has given $3.6 million to a NATO project that will destroy more than 1,000 MANPADS, 1.5 million small arms and light weapons and 133,000 tons of munitions in Ukraine.


Ukraine, Albania, Afghanistan, Honduras, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo all celebrated the symbolic destruction of a million such weapons on International Small Arms Destruction Day July 9.  It was a reminder of the U.S. commitment to aid nations recovering from deadly conflicts and to implement steps under the United Nations program to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

Stephen Mull, acting assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, told USINFO that the United States envisions a future world "where illicit, unsecured and indiscriminately used weapons of war are not available to bad actors."  Destroying excess and obsolete weapons, securing at-risk stockpiles and enforcing robust arms export regulations depend on "constructive engagement with our international partners," he said.

Partners may include governments or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like HALO Trust.  Farid Homayoun of the HALO Trust in Afghanistan spoke in Kabul about the problems of abandoned ammunition and illegal groups arming themselves with ill-gotten weapons.  He cited U.S. funding for humanitarian mine clearance and the removal of weapons debris through HALO’s Weapon and Ammunition Disposal program that has destroyed more than 7,000 anti-vehicle mines and almost 56,000 small arms and light weapons.  In addition, 12,300 tons of general ammunition and 13,900 tons of small arms ammo have been destroyed.

Homayoun said this contributes greatly to improved security and "peace building efforts in Afghanistan."  Besides the United States, he extended his thanks to the governments of Norway, the Netherlands and Germany as well as the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP).

The State Department has provided $5.8 million for weapons abatement programs in Afghanistan in the past three years.  While some of the money is used to eliminate tons of surplus weapons and ammunition, it also helps remove hazardous ordnance that poses risks to farmers and herders.

In 2006, the United States gave the Mine Advisory Group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo $1.1 million to destroy 5,000 surplus weapons, and it will provide another $1 million this year.

Speaking to government, military, NGO, and U.N. representatives waiting to see hydraulic shears cut up rifles at the Congolese Joint Forces Central Logistics Base in Kinshasa, U.S. Ambassador Roger Meese said destruction efforts prevent arms from being used in future conflicts.  These efforts also reflect a desire to see an end to "the danger and conflict that has plagued the Congo as well as other African countries for so many years," he said.  It is also part of a lengthy and "crucial process to reform the military," the official added.

In Albania, representatives from the Ministry of Defense, the ArmorGroup, UNDP and NATO gathered at the destruction site in Mengle about 1.5 hours from the capital.  To mark the occasion, Deputy Minister of Defense Petrit Karabina said:  "With over 500,000 light weapons in the hands of civilians, Albania recognizes the importance of collecting and destroying surplus weapons and ammunition.  It is also clear that the cost of keeping these weapons is ultimately higher than the cost of destroying them.  We want to make Albania a better and safer place for all our citizens."

In Luanda, Angola, HALO Trust and the U.S. Embassy worked with the Angolan police to secure weapons for destruction.  Representatives from the police and the military as well as from the Dutch Embassy and American Embassy joined forces to shred weapons.

In Tegucigalpa, several Honduran newspapers covered the special day, noting that U.S. assistance -- totaling $300,000 -- has been used to destroy more than 20,000 unused military weapons.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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