Accra, Oct 27, GNA - Ghana is to host an international conference on Small Arms and Light Weapons from November 14 to November 18 this year in Accra aimed at developing a strategic plan to address the menace of proliferation of small arms in the West Africa Sub-Region. The conference, which is to be organised by the Ministry of the Interior in collaboration with the Ghana National Commission on Small Arms would attract about 150 participants.
They are to be drawn from the US, Togo, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, the Ghanaian Security agencies, the media, civil society organizations and the National House of Chiefs. Papa Owusu-Ankomah, Interior Minister, who was briefing the media in Accra on Thursday, said the benefits of the conference to Ghana would be the increased national and international support for the fight against the proliferation of small arms, the drawing up of a National Action Plan to fight the menace, as well as a greater co-operation and networking among personnel of security agencies in West Africa in mitigating the problem.
The Minister noted that the effects of the proliferation of small arms on the nation was evidenced by the increased use of small arms in armed robberies, hijacking of vehicles, cross-border crimes, ethnic, chieftaincy, land and other conflicts.
"The problem of the proliferation of small arms impinges on our very survival as a people", he said Papa Owusu-Ankomah said there was substantial numbers of illicit small arms running into thousands and were in circulation in the country and that the number kept increasing daily.
He disclosed that figures obtained from the Statistics Unit of the Criminal Investigative Department of the Police Service from 2002 to 2004 indicated that the Greater Accra, Northern, Ashanti and the Volta Regions were the most affected by firearms violence, accounting for about 45 per cent of Ghana's firearms related crimes.
Available statistics also indicated the use of firearms in appropriately 35 per cent of robberies, 25 per cent of murders, five per cent of manslaughters, one per cent of attempted murders, 37 per cent of chieftaincy conflicts and one per cent in domestic cases. Mr Owusu-Ankomah noted that small arms posed a threat to the peace, public safety and the socio-economic development of the country and also deterred investors and tourists.
Such criminal activities, he held, produced a feeling of insecurity, which in turn fuelled the demand for locally manufactured small arms.
The phenomenon of land guards, cross-border trafficking, leakage from government armouries during and after coups and the inheritance of firearms from relations without lawful transfers have been identified as reasons for the proliferation of small arms.
The Minister said government considered the problem to be a serious issue because of its disastrous effects and had taken appropriate measures to control the menace.
He said that it was to arrest the situation that for the past few years, the Ministry had refused to issue permit to individuals to own firearms and had put in place measures to monitor the stock of ammunition in the magazines of arms and ammunitions dealers. For sometime now, licences had not been issued to dealers for the importation of firearms, including shotguns meant for hunting. The proliferation of small arms and light weapons had plagued the Sub-Region and had exacerbated conflicts in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone leading to the death of hundreds of thousands of people, the displacement of millions from their homes and the creation of refugee situations.
The situation has been a major setback to the development efforts of many African countries and has remained a major concern of international communities.
Mr Owusu-Ankomah stated that although Ghana was described as an oasis of peace, being in the midst of a turbulent Sub-Region with some States in transition from conflict, and the rising incidence of violent crimes were gaining grounds with many artisans resorting to violence to settle differences rather than dialoguing to resolve disputes. The Minister stated that in the next few months the Ministry would intensify public education against the proliferation and misuse of small arms.
He said the laws on firearms were being reviewed and its provision would be strictly enforced to ensure stiffer punishment for those found to be in possession of illicit weapons.
In addition, he said, there would be an effective and reliable mechanisms for conflict resolution, while the public would be further educated on the procedures for the importation, acquisition, transfer of ownership and inheritance of firearms as prescribed by the law. He said the Police would undertake special cordon and search operations for the retrieval of illegal arms.
The Minister called on the media to co-operate with the Government to propagate the message on the proliferation of small arms.
"It is an urgent call for our collective security and our collective contribution will be essential."