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Thursday, July 15, 1999 Published at 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK

World: Africa

Light weapons trade 'fuels African wars'

More than a third of the world's refugees are in Africa

Large-scale trafficking in light weapons has been singled out as a major cause of the wars being waged in large parts of Africa.

A report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute also reports that Africa has more major armed conflicts than any other continent.

The report identified 11 major armed conflicts in Africa in 1998 - making the continent the world's worst conflict zone for the first time since 1989.

A "major armed conflict" is defined as one with at least 1,000 battle-related deaths.

Over eight million of the roughly 22 million refugees around the world were in Africa, the report says, with millions more Africans internally displaced.

The proliferation of light weapons on the continent - AK-47 automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, mortars, and land mines - is viewed as a particular concern.

In some countries an AK-47 automatic rifle can be bought for as little as $6.

Click here to see a map of Africa's arms sources

The report argues that while the availability of weapons did not cause Africa's wars, it has prolonged them and made them more lethal.

Ready market

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Africa has proved an attractive market for nations and manufacturers eager to get rid of arms stocks made superfluous by the end of the Cold War, or by technological developments.

Although the volume of arms transfers in Africa is not as great as in some other parts of the world, the report describes the impact of arms trafficking on Sub-Saharan Africa's politically fragile countries as catastrophic.

Many of the people trafficking arms to Africa are former military or intelligence officers, the report says - mentioning in particular ex-KGB officials, and operatives from the apartheid government in South Africa.

On a national scale, the report points a finger at major arms producers like Russia and China, less-known sources that include Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, North Korea, Romania, and Slovakia, and sources within Africa such as Uganda, South Africa, Sudan, or Zimbabwe.

Diamond sales, illegal wildlife trafficking and the sale of stolen relief aid are among the ways in which non-government militia raise funds to buy weapons, the report says.

Regional wars

The report notes that wars in Africa have increasingly taken on a regional character, especially in the Horn, the Great Lakes region, and southern Africa.

It blames "war by proxy" for spreading conflicts over wide areas with official and unofficial armed forces forming alliances across national boundaries.

An outstanding example is the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is at the centre of a chain of conflicts drawing in countries from Sudan in the north to Zimbabwe in the south.

As of mid-1999, large-scale wars were being waged in

  • Angola
  • Congo-Brazzaville
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Ethiopia
  • Eritrea
  • Rwanda
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
Low-intensity conflicts plague several countries, including
  • Burundi
  • Chad
  • Djibouti
  • Senegal
  • Uganda

The report notes "internal instabilities" in other countries, which it warns could evolve into greater civil strife.

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