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Report Cites Proliferation of Small Arms - 2002-06-24

A private group says the production of small arms is more widely distributed around the world than previously thought. The study, by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, says more than 1,000 companies in at least 98 countries are involved in some aspect of producing small arms and ammunition.

The study says there are about 640 million firearms in the world and about 60 percent of them are legally held by civilians. It also says civilians purchase more than 80 percent of the eight million new weapons manufactured worldwide every year. Small arms include pistols, hunting rifles and machine guns; and also light weapons, such as shoulder-fired rocket launchers and mortars.

The report says 13 countries dominate the global small arms market. The largest exporters are the United States and Russia. The survey's program director, Keith Krause, says the availability and use of small arms carries a heavy price in terms of human costs, often for humanitarian workers.

"What we found is that there is an escalation in both the magnitude and the severity of the impact of small arms on humanitarian workers," Mr. Krause noted. "In some cases, these civilians are used as cover for insurgent movements. In other cases, they are targets of reprisals. And when we did a calculation of the risk associated with being a U.N. civilian employee, we discovered that if we treated the United Nations as a country, it ended up having a death by firearms violence rate of between 17 and 25 per 100,000, which makes it among the most dangerous countries in the world."

Mr. Krause says that, in the past decade, more than 100 relief workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross were killed and about 280 were injured by small arms. He says that in most cases, rebel groups deliberately targeted the Red Cross workers.

The study puts the value of global trade in small weapons at $4-5 billion a year. It says about 80-90 percent of the trade is legal. The report also says it found a general decrease in the stockpiles of small weapons held by insurgent groups.