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US Signals Support for Measures to Stem Illicit Small Arms Trade

A senior U.S. diplomat has told a U.N. conference the United States supports principles designed to stem the illegal trade in small arms. But, the official made clear that Washington will not accept limits on individual gun possession.

Addressing a U.N. small arms review conference, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Robert Joseph said the United States will offer detailed proposals to keep assault rifles and other small arms out of the hands of rights abusers.

"My delegation is here today with a positive agenda - an agenda for effective action to address the illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons, covering military style arms such as shoulder-fired missiles and rocket systems, light mortars, machine guns and automatic rifles," said Robert Joseph.

At the same time, the official said the United States would not accept measures to limit the constitutional right of Americans to keep and bear arms.

"The United States will not agree to any provisions restricting civilian possession, use or legal trade of firearms inconsistent with our laws and practices," he said. "Many millions of American citizens enjoy hunting and the full range of firearm sports, and our work will not affect their rights and opportunities."

The small arms conference has been clouded by fears of some U.S. gun owners that the world body was trying to enact a global gun ban. But in his opening statement to the conference Monday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan attempted to dispel those fears. He said the proposed program of action is aimed only at the illicit gun trade.

Undersecretary of State Joseph welcomed Mr. Annan's statement.

"We agree with the remarks made by the Secretary General to this conference yesterday, namely that the Program of Action is not 'intended to deny law-abiding citizens their right to bear arms in accordance with their national traditions' and that our efforts should be 'directed toward illegal weapons and not legal ones,' " noted Robert Joseph.

The two-week small arms review is a follow-up to a 2001 meeting where the original program of action on the illicit arms was adopted.

An independent survey suggests one-fourth of the $4-billion a year global small arms trade is illicit, that is, not recorded as required by law.

Gun control activists are urging the world body to adopt a treaty aimed at preventing arms sales to human rights abusers or those affected by U.N. arms embargoes.