/TIMBUKTU, 12 June 2008 (IRIN) - Mali has
become an established transit route for weapons
heading from West Africa’s increasingly peaceful
coastal states to active conflicts in West and
Central Africa, an ECOWAS expert has warned.
“There are two factors on the supply side –
stabilisation in Cote d’Ivoire and in Guinea
Conakry,” said Jonathan Sandy, small arms
programme manager with the Economic Community of
West African States (ECOWAS) in Bamako, who says
regional monitoring has shown a steady uptick in
the number of guns entering Mali over the last five years.
“On the demand side, some of the weapons stay in
Mali and are used for criminality. Others go to
active conflicts in the north of Mali, in Niger,
Chad and even as far away as Sudan,” he said.
Violence between the Malian army and Touareg
rebels in northern Mali has escalated in recent
months, with 20 rebels reportedly killed this
week in the heaviest fighting since a rebel assault in May killed 25 people.
The Malian national arms commission says the
weapons it has seized range from sophisticated
automatic weapons to ancient revolvers. The
seized weapons were manufactured in countries
including the United States, China, Egypt, Italy,
the Czech Republic and Russia, according to the arms commission.
In the Timbuktu region of northern Mali, arms
commission officials said they have collected
over 1,300 illegal weapons over the last five
years, but that at least 5,500 weapons are still
in circulation in that region alone. 450,000
people live in the Timbuktu region.
ECOWAS has also registered a 100 percent increase
in the number of arms being manufactured locally
over the last five years. “It’s a good source of
employment, but our concern is that it is not regulated,” Sandy said.
Ahmed Hamid Maiga, head of the arms commission in
Timbuktu, said deepening poverty, a declining
agricultural sector, and rampant population
growth explains increasing domestic demand for weapons.
“People have got to eat and drink,” he said.
“People think if they get a gun they will get
something to eat. There are many cases of fights
between pastoralists and cultivators. Other
people fight over access to water sources.”
ECOWAS’s Sandy said strengthening national arms
commissions in Mali and around the region and
improving information and awareness is the best
way to stop the spread of weapons.