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10.07.2005 General News

Northern Region - big market for Small Arms


Tamale, July 10, GNA - The numerous conflicts existing in the Northern Region has turned the area into one of the biggest markets for the sale of small arms and light weapons in the West African sub-region. This situation has been made possible because borders between the region and those of neighboring countries are so extensive and in some areas inaccessible due to the complication of rivers and land terrain that, absolute security cover to check the smuggling of arms into the region is almost impossible.

Alhaji Abu-Bakar Saddiqque Boniface, Northern Regional Minister, said this at the "Regional Launch of the Awareness Raising Campaign against the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons and the UN Weapons Destruction Day", in Tamale on Saturday.

The Ghana National Commission on Small Arms (GNCSA) organized the campaign with support from the Ministry of the Interior and the United Nations Development Programmed (UNDP).

Alhaji Boniface recounted the wars between the Gonja-Valga in 1979 and the Nanumba-Konkomba in 1981/2 and the current Dagbon crisis and said these had "Regretfully turned the Northern Region into a battle field where small arms and light weapons have been used with careless abandon and human lives and property destroyed with heartless enmity". He said because of the precarious security situation in the Northern Region the government spends about 1.5 billion cedis monthly to maintain peace and security in the region.

Alhaji Boniface conceded that Tamale and Yendi were sitting on time bombs, which need only a spark to ignite.

"We cannot pretend that the arms are not there. The proof that the place is full of arms is that you hear gunshots and even see them being carried openly when there is an incident".

"In fact they fire them indiscriminately and quickly disappear as soon as the security surfaces and all efforts to cordon, search and retrieve them have met with failure".

He noted with concern that although the 1994 ban on the possessing and carrying of arms in the region has not been lifted, people still import and use them with impunity and the way forward was to institute more measures aimed at preventing the infiltration of arms and the retrieval of the existing stock.

Alhaji Boniface said there was also the need to do something about the manufacturing of arms in the country and urged the licensing authority to develop new guidelines to check the possession of arms in the country.

The Regional Minister suggested that the government should make generous offers to those who voluntarily give up their arms or offer information to the police for their retrieval.

Alhaji Boniface used the forum to appeal to people in the region not to use their scarce resources to purchase arms but instead use such resources to invest in their farms and the education of their children. Alhaji Iddrissu Adam, the Metropolitan Chief Executive expressed dismay that the youth of Dagbon, who are the future leaders, have been lured to take active part in conflict and urged them not to allow themselves to be used for the selfish interest of some people.

He urged the youth and all the people of Dagbon to bury their differences and come together as a tribe to say no to conflict and violence and give peace a chance for the development of the region. Alhaji Adam appealed to all the religious denominations or sects to set aside at least a day each to say special prayers for the Northern Region and Dagbon in particular to "salvage it from the jaws of violence, hatred and self-destruction".

Mr Christophe Bahuet, UN Resident Representative in Ghana, said due to the low cost, wide availability and simplicity in the use and durability SALW have become "Weapons of mass destruction", by causing half a million civilian deaths a year. Millions of citizens are injured as well".

Mr Bahuet said while death and physical injury are direct impacts of the use of SALW, there were a number of indirect impacts such as forced displacement, property confiscation, rape and child participation in conflict, loss of family members and friends and torture.

The UN Country Representative said in the year 2003 in response to the government's interest for assistance in tackling small arms issues, the Small Arms and Demobilization Unit (SADU), in collaboration with the UNDP Ghana Country Office, developed the Ghana Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) preparatory assistance project.

He said the project is made up of four key components, which are: Capacity building of National Small Arms Commission, Awareness Raising and Education, Support to the National Firearms Bureau and Baseline Survey of Small Arms Proliferation.

He said the next steps of the project would include informing the public to increase the knowledge and understanding of issues, raising the discourse to promote the involvement of all sectors of society in efforts to minimize social dependency on arms and improve responsible management of arms.

Captain (Rtd) Nkrabea Effah Dartey, Deputy Minister of the Interior said according to a survey conducted by the Ghana National Commission on Small Arms, over 100,000 illicit weapons were in circulation in the country and this had contributed to the incidences of conflict and loss of lives significantly.

Capt Effah Dartey said in a bid to check the manufacture and proliferation of small arms the GNCSA had drawn up an alternative development programme for those involved in the trade.

It has stepped up special cordon and search operations for the retrieval of illegal arms, strengthens security with neighboring countries at the entry points and embark on local sensitization programmes to educate the people on the dangers of small arms. He appealed to drivers to desist from concealing or smuggling weapons in their trucks but instead report all those who contract them to provide such services to the security services.

He also asked teachers not to indirectly involve themselves in conflict situations by influencing the children they teach to take sides with contending parties in conflicts.

Earlier in the day there was a float through some of the principal streets of the metropolis with some of the students carrying placards, which read: " We need peace, we are tired of war", " join the fight against the misuse and spread of small arms and weapons and misuse of illicit arms break up families".

Mr Christophe Bahuet, the UN Resident Representative later launched a National Essay Competition on small arms and appealed to all students to participate in the competition.