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Eight Central African Countries Sign Small Arms Trafficking Treaty

  • Drew Hinshaw

Eight Central African nations have signed a small arms treaty that observers hope will bring stability to the region.

Experts with the United Nations say Central Africa is one of the world's most profitable markets for arms smuggling, amid simmering conflicts, from oil separatists along Angola's Western coast, to the Lord's Resistance Army, and a series of rebellions in eastern Congo.

But at the UN's 31st Security Issues Conference in Brazzaville, capital of Republic of Congo, Friday, the eight signed a convention against small arms trafficking that officials lauded as the toughest the region has ever known.

Congo's foreign minister, Basile Ikwele, says the treaty, which creates a legal framework for prosecuting trans-national gun smugglers, has been signed at a hopeful turn in the region's checkered history.

He said that, despite the challenges that remain to be addressed in the region, real advances have been observed. He said violence is no longer spilling throughout 11 countries, and recent elections, notably in Burundi and Rwanda, were peaceful.

When the treaty comes into effect next year, it's backers hope a new database of national armories will lead to better regional cooperation and transparency.

The convention prohibits civilians from owning hand guns, and prohibits nations from shipping weapons across borders, without high-level clearance.

Ikwele says those simple provisions alone could promote a spirit of cooperation that will one day change how the world views his region.

"Our countries have supported this convention to promote and consolidate our fragile peace," he said, "a peace that must be allowed to take root to abet the emergence of a solid, economic foundation that will inspire the world to recognize our capacity to develop our nations."

Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda and Burundi are not party to the convention.