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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Charities campaign against arms trade
Tank at London arms fair
Charities argue trade control has relaxed since 11 September 2001
Three charities are launching what they say is the world's largest campaign against the global arms trade.

They argue the trade is out of control and that Britain and America have, if anything, relaxed their controls since 11 September as they seek allies in the war on terror.

The charities' campaign for much stricter controls follows protests against Europe's largest arms fair, held in London's Docklands last month.

The government says Britain has a good track record on arms sales and will introduce new legislation later this month to control technology transfers and the activities of arms brokers.

Key facts and figures from a business worth almost 19bn a year worldwide

Governments collectively spend more than 442bn ($700bn) on their armed forces every year and official annual arms sales are valued at up to 18.9bn ($30bn).

But Oxfam, Amnesty International and International Action Network on Small Arms (Iansa) claim the proliferation of arms is unacceptable and are launching a hugely ambitious campaign, says BBC defence correspondent Paul Adams.

Stricter controls

At its heart is a call for a legally binding arms trade treaty within three years.

It is not a move to ban the trade, but to adopt far stricter controls, across regions and in local communities.

The charities claim that national arms export controls are riddled with loopholes.

They say: "The easy availability of arms increases the incidence of armed violence, acts as a trigger for conflicts, and prolongs wars once they break out."

'Awash with guns'

Campaigner Richard Stanforth from Oxfam said: "From Birmingham to Bogota the global arms trade is out of control.

"There are more regulations on the music industry than on arms traders."

The village I grew up in Sudan is now completely awash with guns, even children as young as nine carry weapons in Torit.
James Omunson, Oxfam campaigner

Campaign supporter James Omunson said: "The village I grew up in Sudan is now completely awash with guns, even children as young as nine carry weapons in Torit.

"I urge all governments to sign up to an Arms Trade Treaty to control weapons sales in Torit and Birmingham alike."

As part of the campaign, organisers aim to create a "Million Faces" petition.

Instead of signing a petition, organisers are urging supporters to email in a photo or self-portrait of themselves.

These will then be presented to governments in what is hoped will be a statement of mass public antipathy to the arms trade.

'Stifling development'

Government officials say they applaud the campaign's intentions, but argue it is only likely to succeed if all the major players including Britain, the United States and Russia sign up.

On recent showing the Bush administration seems an unlikely supporter, says Paul Adams.

He says the world is awash with arms, with hundreds of millions of weapons scattered around the globe, killing, stifling development, and spreading poverty and disease.

Despite UN programmes, regional codes of conduct and domestic legislation, far too many weapons end up in places where for reasons of embargos or human rights they should not, he adds.

Major weapons manufacturers include US firms Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon, BAE Systems in the UK and French company Thales.

The BBC's Paul Adams
"This is not an easy business for campaigners to take on"

Security tight around arms fair
09 Sep 03  |  London
Shopping around for weapons
09 Sep 03  |  Business

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