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West African Officials Agree on Regional Weapons Control Measure


West African officials have agreed on a set of measures to guide member states of the Economic Community of West African States to control the millions of Small Arms and light weapons circulating in the sub-region. Efam Dovi has more for VOA from Accra.

About 150 officials, representing national commissions, state legislatures, civil society and development partners attended the first international consultative conference in the Ghanian capital, Accra, on the implementation of the ECOWAS Small Arms Program, called ECOSAP.

At the end of the five day meeting, the delegates adopted a set of "standard operational procedures" that will guide the development of common policies throughout member states, to control the millions of small arms and light weapons circulating in West Africa.

Conmany Wesseh, Chairman of the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms, who chaired the closing session, explains further.

"Among other things we talking about how to collect the arms, how to dispose of the arms, how to put into place the appropriate legislation that will ensure that people work within certain guidelines that are legal and what will be determined as legal and illicit handling of arms," said Wesseh.

ECOSAP is a five year program that will provide training, funding and logistical support to National commissions and national organizations working to fight illicit arms trafficking in West Africa.

Wesseh says implementing the program will not be easy. He says the local population needs to be educated to know and report illegal arms.

"The challenges really are about just the control of arms that we do not produce, that come from outside West Africa," added Wesseh. "There are some production lines, but they are very small. Most of the arms that are circulated in Africa come from countries beyond Africa. They are countries in Europe and America, from Asia and then these arms come in, and then they get into one country and they cross borders that are porous and because of conflicts they easily flow and keep going. And because of the situation of our young people, many of them being unemployed, they become vulnerable.

Last June, ECOWAS leaders signed the Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons in Abuja, Nigeria, to reduce armed violence in West Africa.

The convention needs to be ratified by at least nine of the 15 member states in order for it to be legally binding and effective. Retired Major General Charles Okae from the ECOWAS Commission urged national governments to show their commitment to the program by ratifying the convention.

"Our approach is one to appeal to them through the ECOWAS presidency and a special exercise of undertaking missions to member states to talk to the key institutions like the parliament, like the sub-committee on the defense and security in parliament, like the judiciary, like civil society organization, to elicit their support in getting these governments to sign this ratification [convention]," said Okae.

So far, only Niger has ratified the convention.