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The BBC's Jonathan Marcus
"NGOs ... have... played a decisive role in focusing international attention on the dangers posed by small arms"
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Monday, 9 July, 2001, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Small arms trade fuels world conflict

By defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

In the past, arms control has tended to focus on nuclear weapons or on limiting major items of equipment - like tanks or artillery pieces.

But over recent years governments have increasingly been looking at controlling the world's real killers - things like anti-personnel landmines that kill and maim tens of thousands every year.

Much of the impetus for this work has come from non-governmental organisations.

And they have again played a decisive role in focusing international attention on the dangers posed by small arms.

Deadly weapons

A cache of KPP arms
Small arms are the most deadly weapons

For all the fears about tanks, aircraft and high-tech weaponry - it is simple pistols, rifles and machine guns that fuel most conflicts around the world.

Just as with anti-personnel land mines, many of these conflicts are being waged within states and the victims are often civilians.

Arms control campaigners want to tighten up regulations concerning legal transfers of weaponry. But they also want to clamp down on the huge illegal trade in small arms.

It is almost impossible to say how many guns are circulating-500 million is one estimate

Jonathan Marcus

The world is probably awash with small arms of all kinds. It is almost impossible to say how many guns are circulating - 500 million is one estimate.

And the United Nations believes that small arms have been responsible for some four million deaths since 1990.

Gun lobby

Most governments agree that steps should be taken to tighten up export regulations, to bolster the exchange of information on arms transfers and so on.

But the Bush administration in the United States has insisted that there are some things it will not accept, like limits on the transfer of small arms to non-state actors and controls on the domestic sale and manufacture of small arms.

President Bush is clearly responding to the concerns of the powerful gun lobby in the United States, but he also sees America's ability to arm opposition groups abroad as being under threat.

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See also:

28 Sep 99 | World
UN targets small arms
07 Jul 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Reacting to tragedy in Sierra Leone
16 Sep 99 | Americas
Analysis: Recent gun legislation
23 May 99 | Americas
Clinton urges speedy gun control
13 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Cook urges weapons crackdown
29 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Dissidents look east for arms
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