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Switzerland and France call for new controls on small arms

Small arms are blamed for causing half a million deaths a year

(Keystone Archive)

Switzerland and France have proposed putting a serial number and date on all small arms produced anywhere in the world so that their movements can be traced. Small arms are blamed for causing half a million deaths each year.

Details of the plan, released on Tuesday, call for all small arms to be marked for identification purposes at the time of manufacture. Countries would also be required to set up record keeping systems so the weapons can be tracked.

All weapons which do not bear the appropriate markings would either have to be marked or destroyed.

The plan was presented ahead of a United Nations conference on small arms, scheduled for July. Arms experts say it is gaining strong support.

"The proposal has acquired a lot of support," said Owen Greene, a British weapons expert, who is to monitor the UN meeting. "It's gaining quite a bit of momentum because states think they can live with it. If it kicks in, it will have a dramatic impact."

However, there are concerns that enforcement would be difficult. "The point is how to do that in concrete terms," said Stefano Toscano, a disarmament expert at the Swiss foreign ministry. "It will need lots of clarification on the details."

Small arms are defined as handguns as well as a series of other weapons including grenades, mortars, assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank guns. There are an estimated 500 million in circulation today.

The UN blames these weapons for some 300,000 deaths in armed conflicts as well as a further 200,000 from murders, accidents and suicides.

Experts say the key difficulty facing the Swiss/French proposal is how to set up a global system to trace the weapons, and how to locate and destroy all the existing unmarked weapons.

Most weapons manufactured today are marked, but record keeping systems in most countries are either inadequate or non-existent.

swissinfo with agencies

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