Congo: Illegal small arms could threaten elections

BRAZZAVILE, 2 April 2007 (IRIN) - Large numbers of illegally-held small arms remain in circulation in the Republic of Congo posing a security risk to the central African country which has been plagued by conflicts in the recent past, officials said at a meeting convened to discuss the problem.

"Illegally-held arms remain one of the country's main problems," said defence minister Gen. Jacques Yvon Ndolou, at the meeting organised last week by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Association of European Union Parliamentarians.

The meeting was aimed at raising awareness among Congolese members of parliament and government officials of the threats that illegal weapons pose to national security ahead of the country's legislative elections scheduled for June and July.

UNDP resident representative in Congo, Aurélien Agbenonci, said an estimated 34,000 illegal arms are in still circulation in the country following the civil war in the late 1990s. Remnants of the civil war militias, particularly in southern Pool region, are yet to disarm.

About 10,000 light weapons and munitions have been collected and destroyed with the help of aid donors since 2000, he added.

"We have to combine our efforts and learn from the recent past so that we do not have a re-emergence of conflicts and crises," said Agbenonci.

The MPs urged political parties and politicians to ensure the elections will be free and fair and held in an atmosphere of peace and security. The first round of polling will be held on 24 June and the second on 22 July.

"We also ask the government to take robust measures to fight anarchic use of arms of any kind and the impunity which promotes insecurity and thwarts the country's development," said Philomène Fouty-Soungou, the first secretary of the Senate.