[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Wed, 28 Jul 1999 15:03:46 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: LIBERIA: UN Oversees Arms Bonfire in Post-War Liberia
Article: 71176
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.1883.19990729091538@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** headlines: 150.0 **/
** Topic: LIBERIA: UN Oversees Arms Bonfire in Post-War Liberia **
** Written 6:36 AM Jul 27, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 9:05 PM Jul 21, 1999 by newsdesk@igc.org in africa.news */
/* ---------- IPS: DISARMAMENT: UN Oversees Arms ---------- */

UN Overseas Arms Bondfire in Post-War Liberia

By Thalif Deen, IPS, 21 July 1999

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 21 (IPS) - A massive stockpile of firearms, collected by UN peacekeepers after the end of the 7-year civil war in Liberia, will be destroyed next week.

This represents the largest weapon destruction in Africa in recent years, a UN spokesman said Tuesday.

The weapons, which will be set ablaze at a public ceremony in Liberia July 26, include close to 8,000 serviceable and about 1,800 unserviceable firearms, along with more than 1.2 million rounds of ammunition.

All of the weapons were turned in by more than 20,000 fighters - including some 4,000 child soldiers and 250 adult female fighters - who were engaged in a bitter civil war in Liberia which ended in late 1996.

Since then, the UN Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) and the Military Observer Group of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOMOG) have been disarming and demobilising the fighters.

The bonfire will be witnessed by several African heads of state, including President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, President Lansana Conteh of Guinea, and President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Liberia.

The United Nations, which is supervising and funding the destruction of the weapons, will be represented by K.Y. Amoako, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa and Felix Downes-Thomas, the Representative of Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Liberia.

The process of destroying surplus small arms is being carried out following a decision by the Liberian government as part of a nation-wide disarmament exercise.

Last year, Annan sent a team of four military small-arms experts to advise the Liberian government on the modalities for the destruction of the weapons.

Based on a technical assessment, and taking into account safety and environmental considerations, it was finally decided that all arms would be burned and all ammunition detonated.

The entire exercise is being financed out of a UN special trust fund and is estimated to cost about 200,000 dollars.

Last year a 16-member Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms said the United Nations should support all appropriate post- conflict initiatives, including the disposal and destruction of weapons.

The experts cited the example of Mali where thousands of small arms handed over by ex-combatants were destroyed in a public ceremony in March 1997.

Annan has expressed the hope that the process started in Mali will contribute towards the elimination of all illicit traffic in small arms throughout the region.

The United Nations has also been marginally involved in some of the other weapons collection programmes in countries such as Angola, Albania, Cambodia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mozambique, Nicaragua and Somalia.

Last year, the United Nations launched its first fullscale project to disarm a country's civilian population in Albania.

The pilot project was set up in Gramsh, Albania where the UN Development Programme (UNDP) was expected to spend about 500,000 dollars to provide incentives for villagers to surrender their weapons.

Mitsuro Donowaki of Japan, chairman of the expert group, said that UN member states should consider destroying their surplus weapons to prevent them from falling into the hands of criminal elements or from being transferred to other conflict zones.

Africa, Central America and South Asia are three regions with an excessive accumulation and circulation of small arms, he said.

In a 44-page study, the experts said that in one way or another, virtually every part of the UN system is dealing with the direct and indirect consequences of recent armed conflicts fought mostly with small arms and light weapons.

The expert panel identified small arms to include assault rifles, pistols, sub-machine guns, light machine guns, mortars, portable anti-aircraft guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank missile and rocket systems, hand grenades and anti-personnel land mines.

While small arms and light weapons are designed for use by armed forces, they have unique characteristics that are also of particular advantage for irregular warfare or terrorist and criminal action, the study pointed out.

A proposal for a regional register of small arms has been shelved for practical reasons because the weapons number in the millions.

In Central America alone, there were two million such arms. In Afghanistan, there were 10 million, while in West Africa there were more than seven million.