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Monday, 13 March, 2000, 11:30 GMT
East Africa targets arms trade
Gunmen
East Africa nations want to end rising gun violence
By Martin Dawes in East Africa

East African nations are targeting the increasing flow of arms throughout the region.

Over the next few days, representatives from nine countries are meeting in Nairobi to discuss gun control in the wake of an upsurge in violent crime.

A history of wars and conflicts has spread weapons through the region, where they can be bought cheaply and in large numbers.

Relatively stable countries like Kenya are blaming the flow of arms for an upsurge in violent crime.

Alarming violence

The number of assault rifles, grenades and pistols has brought violence to alarming levels.


It's now a kind of free-for-all raid across some of these borders

Bonaya Godana, Kenya's Foreign Minister
Instead of wars, military hardware is being used on cross-border cattle raids by tribesman, and guns are routine tools for street muggers.

Father Puis Wekeze travels regularly to Kenya's border area and knows very well how modern weapons have transformed local disputes that might one have been settled with bows and arrows.

"They just come and attack because they feel these people, they offended them in the past and here they come, they're out to kill and whatever they (can) get among these people," he says.

Many of the guns were one in military arsenals. But when Somalia imploded, Idi Amin's forces fled into the Ugandan bush and the Rwandan army escaped after the genocide of 1992, guns leaked wholesale into the civilian market.

Kenya's foreign minister says that guns used in Somalia three years ago could now be in Kenya and in a year will end up in the hands of groups in southern Sudan.

Kenya says large shipments are also coming in from outside the continent.

Western support

Western countries have supported the arms conference with donations.

The British foreign office minister Peter Hain would like to see action taken to stop countries who are profiteering from their stockpile of weapons left over from the Cold War.

He says authorities need to be tough on countries like Ukraine and Belarus, which are seeking closer ties with the European Union.

The explosives that destroyed the American Embassy in Nairobi in 1998 may have come through Somalia.

US embassy in kenya
Explosives in the 1998 US Embassy bombing in Nairobi may have come from Somalia
Kenya knows that the long borders with unstable states and too many weapons is a threat to all. Its foreign minister will be arguing for a shared view and a common approach.

"It's now a kind of free-for-all raid across some of these borders," he says.

"We feel it is time the governments of the region decided to adapt to common standards, common policies and common strategies," Godana says.

In remote areas where there are many threats and disputes over cattle and water, it will be difficult enough to take weapons away.

And eight out of 10 countries invited to the conference are engaged in wars or insurrections.

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See also:

31 Dec 99 | Africa
UN condemns Somali arms exports
13 Aug 98 | Africa
East Africa buries its dead
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