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UN Security Council Takes Aim at Illegal Arms Proliferation in Africa - 2003-03-19

The U.N. Security Council took a break from the looming war against Iraq Tuesday, and passed a resolution aimed at combating the illegal proliferation of small arms and the use of mercenaries in West Africa.

After a day-long meeting, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted the resolution, calling on West African governments to do more to enforce a moratorium on the illicit trade of small arms.

The resolution echoed the words of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who urged the international community to take action on the practice, which violates international law. "The uncontrolled proliferation of small arms, light weapons and the use of mercenaries, sustains conflict, exacerbates violence, fuels crime and terrorism and promotes cultures of violence. [It] violates international humanitarian law and impedes political, economic and social development," said Mr. Annan.

In the resolution, which also urges countries to introduce a standardized certificate for imported weapons, the Security Council expresses concern about the links between mercenary activities, illicit arms trafficking and the violation of arms embargoes.

Secretary-General Annan says that the spread of small arms is especially grave for children who have been used as soldiers in conflicts in West Africa. "Light automatic weapons can be carried and fired by children as young as nine or 10," he said. "This link is particularly evident in West Africa where the conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and now in [Ivory Coast] have been fueled in no small part by unregulated trade in small arms often paid for by the illicit exploitation of natural resources."

The Security Council resolution also appeals to the international community to assist the region in implementing the measures, and calls on governments in west Africa to cease military support for armed groups in neighboring countries and from using their own territories to launch attacks across the border.