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Monday, 9 July, 2001, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK
Africa in the firing line
UN anti gun conference
Illicit guns continue to flow into Africa
By BBC News Online's Josephine Hazeley

The United Nations is this week looking into how to limit the sale of small arms to Africa - and it comes not before time.


It is far easier to buy a gun in Africa than to go to the movies, get a decent meal or a book

US State Department
A UN State Department document on arms proliferation in Africa is blunt: "It is far easier to buy a gun in Africa than to go to the movies, get a decent meal or a book."

Nowhere is that more the case than in Somalia.

Guns for sale

In Bakara market, the largest in the capital Mogadishu, those who have become known as "the traders of death" jostle among hawkers of soap and bread for the attention of customers.

On sale are AK-47 assault rifles and shotguns among the heavy anti-personnel carrier and anti-aircraft machine guns.

arms trade conference
Targeting the vulnerable in Sierra Leone
And in this war-ravaged capital, weapons like AK-47s made in Russia and North Korea sell for $200.

Egyptian, Libyan and Yugoslav-made rifles go for $150. The cheapest American-made ones trade for about $100.

A Somali analyst told the BBC: "You go to the market buy a gun and start a war straightaway, its that easy. I have two rifles of my own for protection".

Gun-running

At the last count there were an estimated one million assault rifles circulating in Mogadishu alone, with a population of just 1.3 million people.

Africa's weapons woes
500,000 die each year
Rifles on sale from $100
Weapons imported from Russia, North Korea, Libya, Egypt, USA

Most of these were left behind by the regime of the late President Siad Barre who fled the country when civil war broke out in 1991.

But many have been smuggled in by the gunrunners, who operate across boundaries and across the continent profiting from death.

According to anti-arms campaigners, like the British Charity Oxfam, the sufferings are widespread.

Weapons, brought into Africa and used illegally have claimed the lives of an estimated 80% of civilians killed in conflicts including those in Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Deep scars

On a human rights visit to Sierra Leone, I came across the young boys who have been given arms to kill and maim thousands of Sierra Leoneans, since the war began in 1991.

Arms and Africa
Your money or your life in South Africa
Some of their victims were shot at point blank range and carry deep scars on their legs and arms. One was shot in one eye.

I remember walking away from them and wondering if those who make money from importing weapons, small enough for children as young as 12 to carry and use, ever stop to think of the human costs of their handiwork?

A British Government report suggests that the ready availability of small arms in Africa is sustaining and fuelling conflicts.

Spill over

In one year alone, 1992, it said the Angolan Government handed out about 700,000 rifles to fight the Unita rebel movement.

And with often loosely patrolled borders these conflicts have a major impact on neighbouring countries across Africa.

In South Africa for example, guns are everywhere. Four million are registered and millions more held illegally.

Children take them to school. They are used in car-jackings, robberies, buglaries, domestic disputes and at drinking places, putting South Africa among the most violent and crime riddled in the world.

Few countries in Africa escape the gun culture and until the influx of weapons is halted this will continue.

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See also:

13 Mar 00 | Africa
East Africa targets arms trade
03 Apr 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Gun culture of Sierra Leone
09 Jul 01 | Africa
UN tackles small arms trade
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