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West African Leaders Move to Endorse Arms Convention


West African leaders are meeting in Nigeria to ratify a draft convention to control the proliferation of small arms in the region. The agreement is being hailed as a breakthrough for a turbulent region.

The adoption of a regional convention on small arms has been described as a major achievement for the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.

Mohammed Ibn Chambas, is the executive secretary of the 15-member organization.

"The ECOWAS summit of June 14 will consider for adoption a proposal to turn the moratorium on the importation, circulation and illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons into a standing convention and we are very confident that the heads of state will endorse this," he said.

The Abuja summit will also discuss the security situation in the region. West Africa, which groups some of the poorest countries in the world, has also become very unstable with armed conflicts in a number of countries and threats of widespread violence in several others.

Ibn Chambas is convinced the proliferation of small arms have contributed enormously to the instability in the region.

"There are way too many light arms and small weapons circulating in West Africa, in our various member states, so we need to take very decisive steps on how to control, mop up, destroy these arms so that we can begin to enjoy peace and development and democracy in West Africa," he added.

The latest report on the security situation in the region presented to foreign ministers in Abuja Tuesday indicated a marked improvement. Chambas is happy with the progress made so far.

"We are generally pleased with the progress that has been made in Liberia, in Sierra Leone. In Guinea-Bissau, we are establishing an international contact group to give more focus to that country," he noted. "In Cote d'Ivoire, ECOWAS continues to work with the international working group to support that country. We are calling for continued dialogue among all Ivorians, a deepening of the process, national identification, disarmament; all of these must be deepened."

Established in 1975 with the aim of advancing economic integration and creating an economic and political bloc in West Africa, a region rich in diamonds and oil, but suffering from underdevelopment, poverty and the lack of political stability, ECOWAS has become a key player not only in economic integration and development but also in politics and security.

It maintains peacekeeping forces in the region and monitors the West African arms trade as part of an international effort to prevent small arms from reaching terrorist and criminal organizations.