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Conference Seeks Ways to Control Africa's Small Arms Trade

Officials meeting in Ghana are discussing strategies for controlling the millions of small arms and light weapons circulating in West Africa, years after some of the region's worst conflicts and wars have ended. For VOA, Efam Dovi files this report from the capital, Accra.

The officials are attending the first international consultative conference on the implementation of the Economic Community of West African States Small Arms Program (ECOSAP).

They are expected to come out with "standard operations procedure", to guide national commissions in controlling the sub-regions millions of small arms and light weapons.

ECOSAP advocacy and communication officer Oluwafisan Bankale says although the guns of war seem quiet in West Africa, consolidating peace in the sub-region remains a major challenge.

"We have the case of Sierra Leone, we have the case of Liberia, a few years ago there were shooting wars in these places, all of these are dead now. So what we are looking forward to is to help the process of peace consolidation, it is also important, simultaneously to ensure that as many weapons as we can, we take out from the system," he said.

Experts are worried the fragile peace prevailing in the sub-region could be disturbed with elections due to take place this year in countries like Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

UNDP's regional advisor on small arms disarmament, demobilization and registration, Prosper Bani, says leftover weapons from dead wars could fuel other potential conflicts in the sub-region.

"The residual weapons from the war in Sierra Leone, the residual weapons in Liberia, have continued to be proliferated in the sub-region," he noted. "We anticipate that some of these illicit weapons could enter into Guinea and fuel the already precarious situation."

Bani says such development could derail the political and economic gains made in the sub-region, and called for dialogue in Guinea. Last June, ECOWAS heads of state and governments signed the landmark Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons in Abuja, Nigeria, to reduce armed violence in West Africa.

The major hurdle facing ECOWAS now is to ensure that member states ratify the convention. A total of nine of the 15 member states need to ratify the convention in order for it to be effective and binding.

The conference, which ends Friday, will outline the challenges facing the implementation of the convention and map out strategies to scale up the implementation process.