Rwanda has, for the first time, destroyed 6,000 small arms as part of a regional initiative to check the flow of illicit guns that have fuelled conflict in Africa's Great Lakes region, an official told IRIN on Thursday.
"We set them on fire," Maj Rwakabi Kakira, the coordinator of the Rwandan effort, said.
The guns - ranging from 5.2 mm to 82 mm in calibre and ammunition - were taken from former combatants and armed robbers. Others were part of an obsolete stock left behind by the country's pre-1994 genocide administration.
A proliferation of machine guns, rifles, grenades, pistols and other small arms has caused the deaths of millions of civilians in Africa and the displacement of millions more. These weapons have been used in conflicts in Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Uganda.
In 1994, an interethnic conflict in Rwanda left at least 937,000 people dead; most of them were killed with machetes and light guns. An estimated 300,000 civilians have died in similar circumstances in Burundi and hundreds of thousands others in the DRC.
In Uganda, a rebel group in the north of the country has used small arms to abduct and kill women and children. In war-torn Somalia, an AK-47 assault rifle costs less than US $20.
In April 2004, 11 countries from the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa signed an agreement in Nairobi, Kenya, to combat illicit manufacturing, trafficking and use of small arms in the subregion.
As a result of signing the "Nairobi Declaration" on the problems of the proliferation of illicit small arms, the Rwandan government formed a National Focal Point to deal with the menace.
Member states that signed the declaration called for the destruction and disposal of these weapons.