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African Governments Encourage Surrender of Illegal Weapons

FILE - Weapons seized from separatist fighters in Bamenda, north western Cameroon, Feb. 6, 2019. (E. Kindzeka/VOA)
FILE - Weapons seized from separatist fighters in Bamenda, north western Cameroon, Feb. 6, 2019. (E. Kindzeka/VOA)

Cameroon says more than 120,000 illegal firearms are in the country, fueling a separatist conflict as well as the Boko Haram terrorist group. In Yaounde Monday, Cameroonian and African Union officials marked a delayed commemoration of Africa Amnesty Month, urging illegal holders of weapons to hand them over and be pardoned.

Martin Anya, 29, a former separatist fighter, was hailed Monday as a success story as he went before African delegates with Africa Amnesty Month. While Africa Amnesty Month is September, this year’s event took place one month late because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Anya says he has peace of mind and is confident he will land a profitable job since he surrendered his weapons in January.

Anya says he was retrained at Cameroon’s Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Center in the town of Bamenda.

"We have the basics of computer studies. We were learning how to rear animals," Anya said. "We also have certain activities and other classes that we attend like civic education, basic education classes for those that are from the bush and cannot read and write. Actually, we are better placed here at the DDR than while we were at the bushes."

Anya is among 400 separatist fighters and Boko Haram terrorists whom Cameroon says have surrendered, handed over their weapons and been pardoned.

The central African state says at least 5,000 other fighters are in the bush, carrying illegal weapons.

Ngalim Eugine, Cameroon’s representative at the African Union Economic, Social and Cultural Council, says at least 120,000 illegal weapons are currently in circulation in Cameroon, up from just 25,000 in 2013.

"Those who carry those weapons do not carry it to better the development of a country," said Ngalim. "Most often is destroying what has been built and you know the consequences. This could take so many years to build what was built may be in a few years. Carrying small arms like is the case now in the North West, South West and the Extreme North is not very good."

Ivo Richard Fung, deputy chief of the conventional arms branch of the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs, says the U.N. supports the Silencing the Guns project, which was initiated by African civil society organizations in 2017.

He says conflicts in Africa, especially central African states, may worsen if those carrying weapons illegally do not surrender their arms.

"It is evident by the high levels of crimes, armed violence and of course the conflicts that are taking place in many parts of this sub region," Fung said. "So, without the illicit flows of weapons, the intensity of the conflict will not be what we see."

General Badreddin El Ahmin Mohamed is executive secretary of the Regional Center on Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States.

The general says 40 million arms and light weapons are circulating illegally in Africa and that the most fragile countries are the CAR, DRC and Somalia. He says the situation in central Africa is becoming worse due to Boko Haram terrorism, the separatist conflict in Cameroon and years of chaos in the Central African Republic.

"The first threat to continental security or individual countries security is small arms proliferation. Arms proliferation is due to no development, problems of daily lives, bad governance; there is a lot of leakage in our management or control of small arms from the state arms itself," Mohamed said. "Our borders are very porous and difficult to control."

The AU established the Africa Amnesty Month initiative in 2017 to encourage people to surrender illegal weapons and create conditions for development in the poorest countries.

This year, seven African countries have experimented with the initiative.

The AU is suggesting that it should be extended for three years as the majority of illegal arms carriers who are civilians are still reluctant to hand over their weapons due to ignorance or fear.