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Syria Conflict Stokes Calls for Global Arms Treaty

LONDON—Arms control advocates are demanding a new treaty on the global arms trade when governments meet next month in New York for the U.N. Diplomatic Conference. The conflict in Syria has focused new attention on the arms trade issue.

Last February in Homs, Syria, photojournalist Paul Conroy witnessed his colleague, Sunday Times writer Marie Colvin, killed in a rocket attack. Conroy has now joined activists with the Control Arms Coalition who are demanding a new treaty to control the global arms trade. He says he was shocked by the weaponry the Syrian army had at its disposal.

"They had a continual, unlimited supply of weapons," Conroy noted. "So when we looked into it, I confronted the Russian representative who openly admitted, 'Yes, we're selling weapons to Syria.' I asked him would they stop and he said 'no.' There was literally nothing anybody could do. They couldn't pick up a piece of paper and wave an international treaty at them. They just said if we don't sell them someone else will."

Conroy and other activists recently rented a tank to try to raise awareness of the lack of an arms control treaty. Campaigners plan to take the tank on a tour of London, past embassies of countries which they say are major players in the global arms industry. That includes India where they handed in petitions to the embassy staff. The campaigners claim there are more export controls on food than there are on weapons. To hammer the point home, passers-by in London were given bananas.

There were similar stunts in New York where the United Nations Diplomatic Conference begins on July 2. Suzanne Nossel is executive director of Amnesty International USA.

"This would be the first treaty that regulates a trade in arms that results in the deaths of 1500 people every day, half a million people every year in conflicts around the world," said Nossel.

Howard Wheeldon is director of policy at ADS Group, which represents the British defense industry. He says Britain, the U.S. and other Western arms exporters have already agreed to stringent controls.

"What we need is a treaty that encompasses all the world, all countries, to ensure that no country will sell arms to another that really don't fit into the categories that we've laid down," said Wheeldon.

"Do I think it will succeed? Well I suspect probably not but we'll give it every effort."

Campaigners say the conflicts across the Arab world highlight the urgent need for controls on selling arms.