Tuesday, June 11, 2002

GREAT LAKES: Small-arms unit established

NAIROBI, 11 June (IRIN) — A small-arms unit, based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, has been established by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to address the widespread use of light weapons in the Great Lakes region.

In a statement issued on 7 June, the unit said that in recent years there had been a dramatic increase in the "availability, accumulation and uncontrolled proliferation" of small arms in the region, as well as a "booming business" in their import and export. Yet, instead of the respective governments in the region working together to combat the "escalating situation", many had resorted to manufacturing their own weapons and ammunition, UNDP reported.

Some of the arms in use, as well as the trained or partly trained soldiers using them, were a legacy from pre-colonial struggles: "The long shelf-life of tolls of violence (small arms) and the abundance of ammunition dumped in the field over decades (aside from new stocks) have ensured the perpetuation of the utilisation of these weapons even when the original political objective for their use was long gone," the UNDP said.

The fundamental aim of the new unit was, therefore, to motivate groups to surrender arms in exchange for help in successfully reintegrating into civilian life, and also to render civilian life more "attractive and viable".

The unit would research and raise awareness about the humanitarian impact of the use of small arms with a view to advocating against it; develop international and UN policy and legislation on small arms; develop control and reduction strategies; and design and implement country-specific and regional programmes to address the issues from a development perspective, the UNDP said.