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Kenya Begins Destruction of Illicit Weapons - 2003-03-15

Kenya on Saturday began destroying more than 7,000 illicit small arms it said had been confiscated from criminals. Some of the weapons that were burned had reportedly been used in various conflict raging in the region.

In Uhuru Gardens in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Kenyan Vice-President Michael Wamalwa Kijana presided over the ceremony to burn the illicit arms.

Mr. Kijana said such small arms have contributed immensely to insecurity and underdevelopment in the Horn of Africa region. "Today, as we launch the destruction of 7,227 assorted small arms and light weapons, it is my sincere hope that this event will become an enduring milestone in our concerted efforts to create an arms-free region, with a conducive environment for sustainable development and human security," he said.

Mr. Kijana said the Horn of Africa region is a favorite destination for illicit small arms because of underdevelopment, ethnic differences and the presence of large deposits of untapped resources.

He said Kenya's tourism and wildlife have suffered due to insecurity posed by such weapons, trickling in from the country's war-torn neighbors to the north.

The guns that were destroyed Saturday were described as part of a consignment of about 20,000 recovered by police and members of the public from criminals.

Other weapons have been surrendered by civilians in mostly pastoral communities in northern Kenya, in response to a government amnesty for those who had kept such weapons for personal security.

It is estimated that there are about 40 million illicit weapons in Africa alone, while studies by the Washington-based Human Rights Watch organization show that some of these guns have been used in more than one conflict zone in Africa.

Ochieng Adala, a program officer with the Africa Peace Forum, says arms manufacturers have been of no help in ensuring that their products do not cause suffering in the world. "We, as a civil society, have been insisting all along that there should be transparency right from the source, from the manufacturer," he said. "Most of them gave us the impression that they are in arms manufacturing business - what the arms do, where they end up, is not their business."

Mr. Adala says arms manufacturers should mark all their weapons and make available information about their transporters and buyers to deter the sale of arms to those who should not have them.