Thousands of weapons in circulation throughout Cambodia—the legacy of nearly three decades of civil war—could threaten security in the region without proper arms control, said co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh.
But Tea Banh, speaking at an arms control meeting in Phnom Penh Monday, acknowledged that Cambodia’s proliferation of weapons, a majority of which are unaccounted for, makes arms control difficult.
“The [job] of collecting arms has been a hard one,” he told the nearly 100 conference participants, who are meeting before the Wednesday start of the Asean Regional Forum on Conventional Weapons Transfers.
The Phnom Penh meetings set the stage for a July meeting of the UN on the illegal arms trade. Participants will discuss a simple, universal method of marking arms so they can be traced worldwide, Agnes Marcaillou of the UN said Monday.
Guns cross borders, Marcaillou said, with no regard for political allegiances, and the arms trade often benefits from gun laws that vary by country.
“What is illegal in one Asean state is legal in the other,” said Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, of Nonviolence International Southeast Asia.
For example, he said, arms shipments out of Thailand are legal, but little can be done to control what buyers do with those weapons afterward. But it is the problems created by arms surpluses that plague Cambodia, meeting participants said.
The country remains littered with unregistered weapons. But thousands more have been illegally shipped overseas. Moser-Puangsuwan predicted that some of these Cambodian arms will end up in Indonesia, where civil strife continues to hurt the country’s recovery and a shift in authority has resulted in a militia in need of weapons.
In the opening session on Monday, Jayantha Dhanapala, UN under-secretary-general for disarmament said that “the Asia Pacific region—with its great population, its resources, its potentially bright future, and its bitter experiences with arms races and wars—is in a position today to demonstrate to the world what disarmament can do for peace and development.”