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UN Investigates Small Arms Proliferation in Kenya - 2001-08-03

A United Nations delegation has just completed a week-long fact-finding mission to Kenya, investigating the problem of small arms entering the country. Violent crime in Kenya is increasing dramatically as weapons are flooding into the country from its war-torn neighbors.

Undercover reporters from Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper found they could buy a gun on the streets of Nairobi in 30 minutes. The easy availability of illegal lethal weapons, and armed carjackings and robberies have become a virtually daily occurrence in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

But the problem extends beyond Kenya's cities.

Joao Honwana of the United Nations fact-finding mission on small arms says such weapons are also making conflicts in rural areas increasingly lethal.

"It also has contributed in a very dramatic way to the increase of fatality of what could be considered traditional conflicts," he said. "For example, conflicts around water resources in arid and semi-arid areas. Conflicts around cattle rustling, which are issues that have historically been happening but now because of the fact that small arms and light weapons, particularly weapons with military specification, are so easily available, those conflicts have become much more destructive. Small arms and light weapons have contributed to a serious deterioration of safety of the population in this country."

Mr. Honwana says most weapons are coming into Kenya from Somalia. Kenya's northeastern neighbor has had no government since 1991 and is controlled by rival armed factions.

It is difficult for Kenya to police its border of about 500 kilometers with Somalia. More than 100,000 refugees have fled into Kenya since fighting broke out in Somalia.

The U.N. mission wants U.N. safe havens to be set up in countries like Somalia so that refugees cannot cross into Kenya.

Sheldon Muchilwa, an assistant minister in Kenya's foreign ministry, says the safe havens would help stem the flow of illicit arms into Kenya.

"Instead of allowing refugees to come, say, from Somalia to Kenya, it's better to have refugee camps in their own countries so that they don't spill over with all the arms to Kenya," he said. "They can then be looked after as usual, but on their side of the border."

This is just one of the recommendations the U.N. mission will make to Secretary-General Kofi Annan. It also wants the United Nations to support Kenya's law enforcement agencies and projects that encourage people to surrender their illicit arms.

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi banned all cross-border trade with Somalia last week in an attempt to stop arms smuggling. He says Kenya will deal with Somalia only after it has installed a legitimate government.