By Alusine Sesay
With funds from Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms (SLeNCSA) yesterday officially launched the marking exercise of all weapons held by both the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) and the Sierra Leone Police (SLP). The ceremony took place at the Joint Logistics Unit of the RSLAF at Murray Town Barracks, west of Freetown.
Commissioner of SLeNCSA, Retired Brigadier Leslie Modibo Lymon, said in his welcome address that the occasion marked another significant milestone in the history of the Commission, which was established by an Act of Parliament in 2011, noting that the exercise would be followed by the marking of all small arms and light weapons in civilian possession.
“This launching is the start of the marking exercise of all weapons held by the Republic of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Sierra Leone Police. This will subsequently be followed by the marking of all firearms that will be held by civilians under license,” he said.
He said the marking of weapons within the borders of Sierra Leone is a new phenomenon and that the exercise would be undertaken in compliance with the United Nations Programme of Action (UNPoA) to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspect.
“In addition to fulfilling our international and regional obligations, the marking will greatly benefit the law enforcement agencies, as it will help to narrow their investigation on gun incidents,” he said.
The exercise, he said, would also help minimize cross-border armed violence “as criminal use of firearms from neighboring countries will be easily investigated, since all weapons in the sub-region will bear the ECOWAS logo and country code”.
The Rtd. Brigadier reiterated that the marking of weapons would aid the generation of data to serve as input into the arms registry, hence enhance proper record keeping.
He commended Action on Armed Violence for what he referred to as their unreserved input in aiding the Commission to actualise its desired goals.
Speaking at the ceremony, Minister of Internal Affairs, J.B. Dauda, said the Government of Sierra Leone is committed to fulfilling its international and regional obligations, and that Sierra Leone was the second among the 15 ECOWAS member states to have signed and ratified the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their ammunition and other related materials.
“This has put Sierra Leone in the enviable position of being ahead of most ECOWAS Member States in the implementation of the ECOWAS Convention, in terms of enacting legislation and setting up institutions to address issues related to small arms and light weapons,” he said.
On the completion of the marking exercise, he said the Commission would be in a position to establish a national computerized register and database on small arms and light weapons in fulfillment of Article 9 of the ECOWAS Convention.
The Internal Affairs Minister also commended Action on Armed Violence for their input in making the exercise possible.
“This marking exercise wouldn’t have been possible without the tremendous support of Action on Armed Violence in the areas of equipment and training,” he said, adding that “while we remain thankful to them, we also look forward to their continued support.”
Armed Violence Reduction Program Manager of AOAV, Francis Omane-Addo, said the organization is a UK-based charity that is committed to reducing the impact of armed violence in the Mano River Union region and that they have worked in partnership with the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms since 2012, first to ensure that the Arms and Ammunition Act was enacted.
“One of the ways AOAV has worked with the Commission was to provide two weapon marking machines and this will enable the Commission to undertake the comprehensive marking and registration of firearms throughout Sierra Leone,” he said.
The organization, he added, has sponsored personnel from both the RSLAF and the SLP to access hands-on training in the use of the marking and tracing machines, and that they also sponsored a consultant and an IT expert from Ghana to install marking software and to train staff in the same marking exercise.
As a way of reducing the spread of weapons, he said they are currently working with local blacksmiths who produce illicit firearms so as to help them to undertake alternative livelihood.