A declaration issued on Wednesday at the end of the four-day meeting in Nairobi called for strengthening or adopting national laws and control mechanisms to govern civilian possession of weapons.
Delegates said the conference had given the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa region a "new impetus" in their struggle against the influx of illicit arms. Although representatives from various countries expressed different concerns and priority areas, "one thing we know, is that there is a problem, and we have to address it", an Ethiopian delegate told IRIN.
Relaxed border controls, porous borders, laxity and negligence on the part of licensed firearm owners, conflicts, and the presence of "unscrupulous refugees", had made the region "highly volatile", delegates observed.
"The time has come for all of us collectively to undertake concrete initiatives to mitigate the current hardship and suffering as well as prevent any future consequences of the uncontrollable flow of arms," Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi told delegates on Tuesday when he officially opened the conference. "Greater transparency, information exchange and consultation among countries of the region will be crucial in our efforts to limit arms flow."
Experts attending the conference noted that the proliferation of arms in the region was directly connected to the high rate of crime. One expert, Virginia Gamba of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in South Africa, said a factor that aggravated small arms proliferation was "the undertaking of peace processes without disarmament". She added that the recent phenomenon of dumping of unwanted, unused stocks by eastern European countries had compounded the problem.
Observing that illicit arms traffickers were better organised than some government institutions that dealt with the problem, Gamba prescribed a three-tiered approach aimed at resolving the issue: destroying the surplus weapons, tightening regulations and improving border controls.
The director of the UN Africa Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament, Ivor Fung, pointed out the need to tackle the lack of trust at interstate level in the region. "In the absence of confidence, any collective measure would fail," warned Fung, who represented UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the meeting.
He also spoke of the need to demobilise ex-combatants and reintegrate them into society. "Otherwise they will resort back to fighting." However, he also stressed that proliferation of weapons in the region did not just reflect conflicts, "because some stable countries also have a problem with the proliferation of weapons".
The conference designated the host country Kenya to coordinate a follow-up meeting.
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