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Lessons from small arms programmes

[Tanzania] The small arms trade is fuelling conflict across Africa. UN
The small arms trade is fuelling conflict across Africa.
South Africa and Lesotho's programmes for destroying small arms could be adapted to fit the needs of other countries throughout the continent, a new study has found. The report, "Destroying Surplus Weapons: An Assessment of Experience in South Africa and Lesotho" was produced by the Institute for Security Studies on behalf of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. Authors Sarah Meek and Noel Stott note that with regard to disarmament, "South Africa is probably best known for its unilateral decision to renounce its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programmes that had been developed under the apartheid regime", and its cooperation with Mozambique in identifying and destroying arms caches there. However, "South Africa has also been engaged in a process of rationalising and standardising its own stocks of small arms and ammunition, and destroying those considered redundant, obsolete and unserviceable". It had also destroyed thousands of illegal weapons confiscated by police. "In 2001, at Lesotho's request, South Africa extended its experience in this form of weapons destruction by assisting its land-locked neighbour to destroy its excess and redundant small arms," the report commented. South Africa had thus joined a "small group of countries who have taken seriously" a 1997 UN recommendation that surplus small arms be destroyed. Stott told IRIN the fact that "people are calling small arms the new weapons of mass destruction" underlined the importance of dealing with the proliferation of small firearms in Africa, "especially in countries going through transition", such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "There's no doubt small arms fuel and exacerbate the crime situation. It's very important that countries ... are seen to be dealing with the small arms issue openly," Stott added. IMPORTANT LESSONS In assessing the experiences of South Africa and Lesotho, three weapons destruction programmes were covered: two operations conducted by the military in each country, and one by the South African Police Service, which focussed more on illicit weapons. The report notes that the experiences of South Africa and Lesotho "provide important lessons for future efforts both within those countries and in others". "The first thing to note is that it's not incredibly expensive," said Stott. He told IRIN that while small arms destruction required personnel, logistics and transport resources "it's not that expensive". "The military [destruction] programmes required a huge amount of personnel power, to ensure ... things did not go missing. The process here was meticulous - both the [South African] military one and the Lesotho one - in terms of recording everything and double-checking, which is a good thing - you do not want weapons to go missing in the process," Stott added. The report noted that countries contemplating similar programmes should be aware of the challenges. "Existing policies or regulations may have to be amended to permit the destruction of state-owned goods; internal and external political support needs to be mobilised to ensure that such a programme can be implemented efficiently and effectively; and, the securing of funding for such programmes," were all crucial. "Technical challenges associated with the destruction of surplus weapons are relatively minor, compared to the range of challenges associated with the widespread and uncontrolled proliferation and availability of small arms that confront many countries in Africa. Thus countries, particularly those faced with such problems, should not be deterred from initiating projects aimed at destroying surplus state-owned small arms and improving stockpile management," the report added. Both South Africa and Lesotho had also demonstrated to the donor community that funding for the destruction of redundant and illegal weapons could "be utilised professionally, competently and cost-effectively". This should assist other countries in securing assistance, the report said. For information or to obtain the report go to: www.smallarmsnet.org

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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