West African regional bloc ECOWAS Saturday banned the transfer of arms by the 15 member states except for legitimate defence, security and peacekeeping operations, a senior official said.
President of the Economic Community of West African States Commission Mohammed Ibn Chambas said the ECOWAS convention on small arms proliferation had come into force with its ratification by Benin.Other countries like Burkina Faso, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo had earlier ratified the convention in line with its provision requiring a minimum of nine out of the 15 members for it to be effective.
Chambas said the convention "provides for a ban of arms transfer by member states, with possibility of exemption for legitimate defence and security needs, law enforcement and participation in peace support operations."
"It prohibits, without exception, arms transfer to non-state actors without the approval of the importing country," Chambas said during the opening of the 63rd ordinary session of ECOWAS council of ministers in the Nigerian capital.
He said the commission would work closely with member states to ensure tight control of the circulation of small arms and light weapons in the entire region.
Nigeria's Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe, who chaired the meeting of ministers in charge of ECOWAS matters, said a lot of progress had been made on the west African gas project after militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta laid down their guns following a government amnesty.
"Barring any unforseen developments, gas will be transported from the Niger Delta by 2010 to Benin, Togo and Ghana," he assured.
The minister decried the non-implementation of the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons, goods and services by member states, citing problems at the various border posts.
He expressed the hope that the construction of joint border posts in the region would commence in 2010, stressing that "the time has come for all of us to demonstrate that we have the political will to tackle this menace."
Nigeria is the headquarters of ECOWAS which was formed in 1975 to promote economic integration in the region and the country's president, Umaru Yar'Adua, is its current chairman.