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NI: AK-47: Northern Ireland paramilitary 'weapon of choice' is world's worst regulated weapon according to new report

The AK-47 assault rifle 'the so-called' weapon of choice of Northern Ireland's paramilitaries through the years - will remain the most widely-used weapon in conflict zones for at least the next 20 years because it is so poorly regulated, according to a new report.

The report comes from the Control Arms campaign, led by Amnesty International and Oxfam, and is released at the start of the UN world conference on small arms and light weapons in New York today (26 June).

Large quantities of the AK-47 or Kalashnikov assault rifle were illegally shipped to Northern Ireland by both loyalist and republican paramilitary groups and reportedly used in killings such as the 1992 Ormeau Road betting shop massacre, allegedly carried out by the UFF, and the 1996 killing by IRA members of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare, Co Limerick.

It is believed that 200 AK-47s were imported from South Africa by loyalist paramilitaries in 1987 and were divided between the UDA, the UVF and Ulster Resistance. Similarly, the IRA is reported to have smuggled hundreds of AK-47s from Colonel Gaddaffi’s Libya in the mid-1980s.

The Kalashnikov is manufactured in more countries and is being used to cause more widespread suffering today than at any time in its sixty-year history. Many thousands of people are killed every year by the weapon. This is because there is little international control on its production, sale and use, according to the report, AK-47: The World's Favourite Killing Machine.

The report estimates that there are up to 100 million AK-47s and variations of its design in the world today. They are found in the state arsenal of at least 82 countries and are produced in at least 14 countries. This is set to increase with Venezuela recently signing a deal for the local assembly of the weapons, the first of its kind in the Americas.

The large number of production facilities throughout the world, the widespread availability of surplus Kalashnikovs and the absence of global standards and laws to regulate their transfer make it easy for the weapons to fall into the hands of unscrupulous arms brokers, armed militia and criminals.

Even the weapon's inventor, Lieutenant-General Mikhail Kalashnikov, is calling for tougher controls and, in a statement released to the Control Arms campaign today, said:

"Because of the lack of international control over arms sales, small arms easily find their way to anywhere in the world to be used not only for national defence, but by aggressors, terrorists and all kinds of criminals […] When I watch TV and see small arms of the AK family in the hands of bandits, I keep asking myself: how did those people get hold of them?"

Control Arms campaigners will today hand over the world's largest visual petition, the Million Faces Petition, to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in New York. The petition is calling for tougher arms controls and contains the images of one million people in over 160 countries. The number symbolises the one million people who have been killed by small arms since the Control Arms Campaign began in 2003.

The faces of thousands of Northern Ireland people who support the campaign are among those being presented to Kofi Annan today.

"Out of control and unregulated, AK-47s have been used to murder and maim, fuelling conflict and poverty in the world's poorest countries. One million people from around the world, including many thousands from Ireland, north and south, have signed the petition calling for tougher arms control. At this UN world conference, governments must agree global rules for small arms sales and help put an end to this suffering," said Brian Scott, director, Oxfam Ireland.

The widespread availability of the AK-47and its variants is a legacy of the Cold War. Its production was originally promoted by the Russian government amongst its allies but there was little control on the production agreements and in some cases there was no production agreement at all. Millions of AK-47s were also supplied to various regimes during the period and these are still in circulation, now being traded by numerous firms and governments across the globe.

"The AK-47 is a symbol of the way in which the Arms has run amok, destroying lives and livelihoods. In Northern Ireland we have experienced the terrible human cost of an out-of-control Arms. Only global rules to control who produces the weapons and to whom they are sold will ensure that they don't fall into the wrong hands," said Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International.

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