Armed forces in the Republic of Congo have begun to collect and destroy all weapons abandoned on battlegrounds in the country's civil war that began in 1997, as well as munitions that had expired but were still in armouries.
The move follows President Denis Sassou Nguesso's declaration that 2008 would be "a year without illegal weapons in Congo".
"Our duty is to collect and destroy all the equipment abandoned on the ground after the events of 1997, to preserve the lives of people," Jacques Yvon Ndolou, the minister in charge of defence and the welfare of veterans and disabled war veterans, said on 21 February.
He was speaking at the incineration of 25,000 rounds of ammunition of various calibres and 40 air-to-ground missiles at N'djiri, 20km north of Brazzaville, the capital.
The arms were collected and destroyed with the technical support of Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a British NGO.
According to Colonel Frederic Ingani, MAG's liaison officer, the arms, ammunition and explosives being destroyed had exceeded the normal shelf-life of between 18 and 20 years.
Eleven years after the bloody civil war, residents of the Congolese capital are still exposed to the danger of arms.
"Brazzaville has an area of 26 hectares still contaminated with unexploded ordnance," according to MAG's project manager, Anna Kilkenny.
In December 2007, MAG discovered a site in N'djiri where ammunition of all calibres was still live after an earlier uncontrolled destruction. It demolished 77,049 rounds of ammunition and 264 weapons, including 89 sensitive and dangerous munitions stored in the armouries of the Congolese Armed Forces. A large quantity of ammunition was destroyed in January 2008.
MAG proposes to inspect the storage sites in Pointe-Noire, Congo's economic capital on the Atlantic coast, and Dolisie, the third-biggest city in the southwest.
Despite the end of the civil war, illegal weapons still proliferate in Congo. According to a study conducted in 2005 by the Swiss NGO Small Arms Survey, there are at least 34,000 illegal weapons in Congo, most of them in Department of Pool in the south, which was ravaged by civil wars repeatedly between 1998 and 2003.
The arms collection for development project, funded by the European Union and implemented by the UN Development Programme, has been ongoing since 2005. Japan is expected to contribute two million Euros (US$3 million) for the project this year.
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