UN closes in on treaty regulating $99b conventional arms trade

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The 193 countries that make up the United Nations closed in on Thursday on the first-ever global treaty to regulate the US$80 billion (S$99 billion) a year conventional arms trade.

Rights groups say the proposed accord is too weak, but Britain's UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said it is "time for all countries to rally round (the) strong president's text". Talks have been held on the treaty since 2006 after years of pressure for measures to restrain a trade that rights groups say is fuelling conflict, terrorism and crime around the globe.

The UN estimates that 500,000 people a year are killed in armed violence.

The treaty would cover tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light arms. It would aim to force countries to assess whether the sale of a weapon could be used for genocide, war crimes or by terrorists or organised crime gangs.

Negotiating conference president Peter Woolcott of Australia handed out what he called a "take it or leave it" text to UN states on Wednesday and gave them 24 hours to consider their response.

Diplomats said they did not expect the major arms producers - the United States, Russia, Germany, France, China and Britain - to block the treaty. Some said, however, that Russia could refuse to sign the accord, which could weaken its application.

"Moscow believes the text is not strong enough on arms trafficking, and that it should explicitly mention 'non-state actors'", such as the Syrian and Chechen rebels, said one European negotiator.

China and Russia also had concerns about the reporting of arms sales.

The latest text says that "reports may exclude commercially sensitive or national security information". Diplomats said India could still block the accord because it does not want the controls to cover arms transferred under bilateral military agreements.

The US opposes ammunition coming under the full controls imposed by the treaty. Ammunition has, however, been left in an annex which does not impose compulsory monitoring of trade in bullets, for which the US is the biggest producer.

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