While the illicit arms trade is a major security threat, countries’ sovereignty should be respected as the region tries to tackle the weapons trade, Asean country representatives said at an arms control conference in Phnom Penh this week.
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said efforts to control the illegal production and trade of weapons should not interfere in the “internal affairs of countries, national mechanisms and international cooperation in addressing small arms and light weapons.”
And solutions to the problem, said Hao Yin Biao, China’s delegate to the conference, “must not affect the rights of countries to use weapons and defend themselves.”
Conference representatives also expressed reservations over how much information should be shared between countries. More than 23 countries took part in the two-day Seminar on Conventional Weapons Transfers to discuss cooperation in arms trade control.
Manpreet Vohra, of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, suggested that the group focus on specific points to which all Asean countries could agree, such as authorizing arms transfers only to states or state entities in order to prevent arms sales to criminal organizations.
Delegates ended the seminar with a list of recommendations, including better management and security of weapon stockpiles and better cooperation between customs, police and border agents.
The group also recommended that UN peacekeeping operations include clear provisions for disarmament and weapons collection and destruction.
Additionally, countries with resources should help other countries with disarmament and weapons disposals programs.
The recommendations will be reviewed at the Asean Experts Group Meeting in Malaysia in April. A politically-binding declaration could be approved during the Seniors Officials Meeting in Vietnam in May.
Australia proposed a non-binding declaration that would “signal the political will” of Asean to curb illicit small-arms trade and provide “a broad framework for tackling the issue,” said Bernard Lynch of the International Security Division at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Delegates reviewed the UN Register of Conventional Arms to which 151 participating countries, including Cambodia, send data on import and export of military equipment—from tanks and missiles to submarines.
This was the first of a series of Asean meetings that Cambodia will be hosting, said Chem Widhya, permanent secretary for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. The country will assume Asean presidency in July 2002 and, in that capacity, will host the Summit meeting and other Asean events, he said.
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