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Swiss to push for action against illicit trade in small arms

Small arms tend to be the weapons of choice for guerilla movements, which often recruit children to fight their battles

(Keystone)

Switzerland wants to push ahead with measures aimed at limiting the proliferation of rifles, machine guns and mortars worldwide. A United Nations conference on ways of curbing the trafficking in such weapons is taking place in New York over the next ten days.

The aim of the meeting, which is being attended by government representatives, including the Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, and non-governmental organisations, is to approve an action plan to reduce the uncontrolled trade in small arms.

In an interview with swissinfo, Raimund Kunz of the Swiss foreign ministry underlines the complexity of the issue and the diverse interests at stake: "Measures have to be taken at a national, regional and global level. Unlike weapons of mass destruction, small arms cannot be banned outright.

"They are being used by regular armies and police forces but also by militant groups and criminals."

Kunz said it was therefore important to have a system in place, which allows the identification of arms manufacturers. This would mean that companies and states which are in breach of international standards would come under increasing international pressure to follow the rules.

Kunz, who is leading the Swiss delegation in New York, says there are security, trade, development aid and humanitarian issues at stake.

"Switzerland is seeking a comprehensive approach at the conference in the fields of arms export controls, the production, brokering and stocking of light weapons."

Ambassador Kunz said Switzerland with its long-standing humanitarian tradition had a genuine interest in efforts to curb the illicit trade in small arms.

"An estimated 550 million rifles, machine guns and mortars are in circulation worldwide. Every year, about 500,000 people get killed by such weapons, and more suffer injuries."

Experts say small arms have been the weapons of choice in almost every major conflict in the past 10 years.

Switzerland introduced restrictive arms export legislation in 1998, and has acquired know-how in the marking, tracing and brokering of weapons, says Kunz.

In a joint initiative with France, Switzerland is proposing setting up a mechanism to mark and register small arms in a bid to trace their movements. Signatory countries would commit themselves to exchange information, and unmarked weapons would have to be destroyed.

The United States made clear on Monday that it would oppose any attempts to "constrain legal trade and manufacturing of small arms and light weapons".

In recent years Switzerland has also been supporting post-conflict disarmament efforts in Mozambique and Albania.

The Swiss government played a role in preparing for the UN conference, which is the first of its kind. It organised a series of seminars and funded the first edition of a reference book on small arms. The "Small Arms Survey" was complied by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.

A leading small arms manufacturer in Switzerland, SIG Arms International, told swissinfo that it was also in its interest to fight abuses and make the trade in small arms transparent. But the company warned against introducing complex regulations which would hamper commercial operations altogether.

Switzerland is among the top 17 exporters of small arms worldwide. There are four companies producing such weapons, arms components or ammunition.

by Urs Geiser

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