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Eastern, Central African Countries  Tackle Issue of  Arms at Nairobi Conference - 2004-04-20

In Kenya, senior officials from 11 countries in Eastern and Central Africa began a two-day conference Tuesday on ending the illegal in trade small arms and light weapons.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka opened the conference Tuesday with a warning that the easy availability of small arms, coupled with what he called the failed state syndrome of civil wars, will continue to de-stabilize the region.

Mr. Musyoka was particularly concerned about the effect of Somalia's long-running civil war on Kenya and surrounding countries, saying that some 60,000 weapons have been smuggled into Kenya from Somalia.

"Indeed, the illegal flow of arms from Somalia remains one of the major security concerns to my own country Kenya," he said. "A recent report by a United Nations committee of experts monitoring the effectiveness of an arms embargo on Somalia concluded that huge caches of arms have been shipped to Somalia."

Foreign Minister Musyoka said addressing the causes of the region's wars must go hand-in-hand with efforts to eradicate the illegal flow of small arms.

The small arms and light weapons conference is the second meeting of its kind in the last two years. The ministers are expected to sign two agreements to monitor, prevent, and stop the illegal flows of these types of arms.

The director of the Kenyan research organization, the Security Research and Information Center, retired Lieutenant Colonel Jan Kamenju, says he thinks the agreements will be effective because they spell out the steps governments must take to fight the illegal flow of small arms and light weapons.

He says details on such procedures as stockpile management, licensing, and controlling small arms are included in the agreements.

Officials at the conference were questioned on whether such agreements can work without the involvement of the manufacturers and distributors of small arms and light weapons.

Retired Kenyan Lieutenant Colonel Jan Kamenju acknowledges that the governments have little control over the arms companies, but he says they are trying to improve that.

"We do not have very direct contacts with the manufacturers, so you cannot tell them, don't manufacture," he said. "But there must be a streamlining of licensing so that arms are only licensed to the legal governments, the legal users. Indirectly, this becomes a part of the negotiation at the U.N."

He urges all governments in the region to develop national action plans to reduce small arms.