A group of 15 West African states announced July 6 a three-year extension of their moratorium on the export, import, and manufacture of light weapons. The light weapons moratorium, agreed upon by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), originally took effect November 1, 1998, and the extension officially began July 5.
The moratorium, which is not legally binding and has no compliance or monitoring mechanisms, applies to seven categories of weapons: pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, rifles, machine guns, anti-tank mortars, and landmines.
ECOWAS members agreed in December 1999 to a code of conduct under the moratorium calling on states to seek a waiver to import or produce any light weapons for purposes such as peacekeeping operations or hunting. Members also approved establishing a prototype regional arms register and database for collecting information on the import, export, military holdings, seizures, and manufacture of weapons in the seven categories, although work on the register has been suspended because of lack of funding.
Adherence to the moratorium has been mixed, due in part to armed conflicts in some ECOWAS member states, most notably Sierra Leone. However, while acknowledging some “irregularities,” Ivor Fung, the director of the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa, said in an August 30 interview that the moratorium has succeeded in raising awareness of the problem of light weapons on the continent and attracting high-level government attention.