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Workshop discusses gun demand

Cambodia's Working Group for Weapons Reduction (WGWR) will link with other anti-weapons

groups in Southeast Asia to curb the high demand for small arms in the region, the

NGO's executive coordinator Neb Sinthay told the Post.

He said Cambodia had emerged as a leader with the most advanced weapons destruction

program in the region. More than 100,000 weapons have been removed from circulation

since a government crackdown began in 1998. A survey conducted that year, but prior

to the government's arms reduction program, found that two-thirds of Phnom Penh's

households owned a gun.

"There are two levels to the problem," said Sinthay. "First, the government

wants a new supply of weapons to protect the country. Second, individuals want arms

because they feel a lack of security, or they are engaged in illegal actions such

as smuggling."

Sinthay was speaking after Phnom Penh hosted the third in a series of international

workshops concentrating on the problem of small arms. Thirty-one delegates from 15

countries met May 26-31 to discuss strategies for reducing the regional demand for

small arms.

The Geneva-based Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD) and the Quaker United Nations

Office co-hosted the workshop, "Curbing the Demand for Small Arms: Focus on

Southeast Asia". It is the third such conference and follows one held in South

Africa in 1999, and another in Nairobi in December 2000.

CHD's Cate Buchanan said the issue of insecurity emerged as the common link between

the delegates from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. She said development alone

would not eliminate weapons use.

"It doesn't matter how many schools you build, we all live with different tones

of insecurity," said Buchanan. "You need to reduce the reasons for people

to feel they need weapons."

She added that reforming both the military and the police across the region, including

in Cambodia, was critical to reducing that need.

"In Rio NGOs have taken over slums and created community security forces with

police, military, NGOs and locals to enforce [the rule of law]," she said of

the kinds of initiatives considered by the workshop. "What the [international

delegates] were really impressed by was the amazing work that Cambodia had already

done to think about weapons usage."

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