- The government of Guinea-Bissau estimates that there are at least 25,000 small and light arms circulating irregularly in the country, most of them concentrated in the capital and in the border areas. While the access of such arms is believed to be increasing, the government now is preparing a programme to control their circulation.
Bissau authorities have secured assistance from the UN to develop the small arms control programme, which aims at fighting the illicit proliferation of arms in the country. Specialists from the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms (PoA) are currently in Bissau to aid the government in its efforts, according to the Portuguese edition of afrol News.
Led by the Cape Verdean diplomat António Évora, working for the UN, the small arms specialist team is to meet with representatives from the Bissau-Guinean government, military leaders and representatives from the international community and civil society "to get a clearer picture of the dimension of the problem in the country."
The scale of the problem has still to be mapped, but the government assumes that at least 25,000 illicit small arms and light weapons are circulating in the country. These arms have mostly surfaced in the capital, Bissau, and close to the border with Senegal's troubled Casamance province.
Trafficking of small arms and light weapons over the border between Guinea-Bissau and Senegal has been a known problem for at least a decade. The Bissau government is said to have had little control over weapons left behind by the Portuguese after independence was gained in 1975. Smugglers and corrupt officials are said to have sold parts of these arms to the Casamance separatist rebels.
Small arms have also circulated at the border with Guinea Conakry. Guinea-Bissau has for long been part of the small arms problem in the Western African region, were armed groups in Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea Conakry have bought and sold light weapons as warfare has shifted from one area to another.
Earlier efforts to control the proliferation of small arms in Guinea-Bissau have mostly failed. The crackdown of an arms smuggling league in 1998 led to a military revolt, which again started six years of unrest, war and political chaos in the country. Government investigations into smuggling of arms into Senegal had led to the arrest of a dozen other military personnel and the dismissal of army chief of staff, General Ansumane Mané.
At these crossroads, the Bissau government counts on the cooperation of the armed forces and the international community in its efforts to reduce the proliferation of small arms. The small UN peacekeeping mission in Guinea-Bissau, ONUGBIS, is also mandated by the UN Security Council to control small arms and light weapons in the country.
UNOGBIS head Joăo Honwana is satisfied by the steps now taken by Bissau authorities, saying that his mission's mandate also includes encouraging the government to control the circulation of small arms. "It is a problem of growing proportions in the country, and for that reason it is especially mentioned in our mandate," explains Mr Honwana.
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