This is the text of a message from Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a weapons destruction ceremony today in Monrovia, Liberia. (It was delivered on his behalf by K.Y. Amoako, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa):
It gives me great pleasure to convey my greetings and best wishes to all who have gathered in Monrovia for this very important event. President Taylor and the people of Liberia merit the world's recognition for their wise and far- reaching decision to destroy these many thousands of weapons decommissioned from the civil war, which brought so much suffering to this country. This is a major step forward in the consolidation of peace, as signified by the presence here today of so many African leaders. Together, you are bringing closer the day when all of West Africa will be rid of arms and conflict, and will instead be a zone of peace and stability.
Small arms cause big tragedies. Readily available and easy to use, they have been the primary or sole tools of violence in almost every recent conflict dealt with by the United Nations. In the hands of irregular troops operating with scant respect for international and humanitarian law, small arms and light weapons have taken a heavy toll of human lives, with women and children accounting for a high proportion of the casualties. They have driven people from their homes, undermined development, led to increases in crime and social violence and thwarted the prospect for investments. They have been a scourge upon the face of Africa.
So, the destruction of arms today in Liberia is a welcome step and a confidence-building gesture of great importance. Once the process is completed, this will be the largest single public display of conventional weapons destruction carried out in peacetime. This is, of course, of great practical consequence: fewer arms means less violence, destruction and death.
- 2 - Press Release SG/SM/7078 AFR/160 26 July 1999
But this bonfire has tremendous symbolic value, as well. It tells us that Liberia's civil strife is truly at an end. It shows us that the countries of the region are committed to fighting the illegal proliferation of small arms, and to implementing the arms moratoria adopted by the Economic Community of West African States. It signals that the peoples of the region will seek to settle their disputes peacefully, through dialogue, and not through the resort to arms. And it gives us hope that other post-conflict societies will carry out similar steps in the future as a sign of their own commitment to peace and disarmament -- as, indeed, Mali did three years ago.
Today is Independence Day in Liberia. This event marks a most inspiring kind of independence: freedom from the power of arms. Today, with these flames of peace, peace in Liberia burns more brightly and we can see a glimmer of hope for peace and security across the African continent. The international community stands with you in recognizing the importance of this day, and supports your ongoing efforts at reconstruction.
Congratulations to all in Africa and beyond who have made this event possible, and to all who are honouring this day with their presence and good wishes.
* *** *