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Horn of Africa: 'Improved approach needed towards disarmament'

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ENTEBBE, 30 May 2007 (IRIN) - Intermittent efforts to disarm, sometimes forcibly, up to 20 million pastoralists in the Horn of Africa, who are believed to possess five million firearms, have failed and a better approach has to be found to persuade them to give up their weapons, participants at a conference said.

"All disarmament programmes are full of challenges and forcible disarmament has not worked. In most cases it is a reactionary response to periods of intense insecurity," delegates at the three-day regional workshop on the disarmament of pastoral communities in the Ugandan city of Entebbe said in a final statement issued on 30 May.

The meeting was organised by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional body comprising Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.

Disarmament programmes in the region were ad hoc and dependent on poorly conceived national policies and government decrees, officials and community leaders said. Presentations were also made by representatives from the African Union, United Nations Development Programme, the European Union, other African regional bodies and civil society organisations.

Fuelling conflict

Using force to seize weapons made communities resentful and strained relations with law-enforcement agencies, the participants noted.

Efforts since 2000 by the Ugandan government, for example, to remove guns from nomadic livestock herders in the remote northwestern region of Karamoja had often led to violence between Karamojong warriors and security forces, who have also been accused of human rights abuses.

Conflicts between pastoralists were often due to competition for natural resources, including access to pasture and water. "Small arms are key factors in determining relationships," the statement said.

Cattle rustling for commercial reasons, political and economic marginalisation of pastoralists, also made people feel insecure and hence promoted the desire to possess guns.

Part of the process

"Disarmament must be seen as part and parcel of the development process and not as a one-off event. It must be approached from a human security perspective that considers physical security, economic security, social security, environmental security [and] cultural security," according to the document.

The meeting, however, noted that the proliferation of small arms continued to be a major security challenge in the region. The weapons caused death and injury, human rights violations, displacement and a breakdown of law and order. They undermined democratic governance and prevented economic development.

The workshop urged governments to implement development projects to improve the livelihoods of pastoralist communities.

"The region needs to develop clear standard procedures and guidelines for disarmament on issues such as timing, methodology for weapons collection, recording, disposal and location of sites, among other necessities," the participants said. Public support was essential in developing any disarmament exercise.

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