In November 2011, the government of Burundi reached a major milestone in its recovery from decades of civil war with the announcement that their country had reached "landmine-free" status. Now, with the help of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Burundi has embarked on a new initiative to build on these gains by improving security of its military and police forces' inventories of small arms and light weapons, such as assault rifles and pistols.
Since 2006, the United States has invested approximately $2.7 million in assistance for weapons stockpile security training, the destruction of 9,000 of its excess weapons, and destruction of 75 tons of its obsolete and excess ammunition in Burundi. This also included the safe destruction of 312 Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) determined by its government to be no longer necessary for its national defense. Their destruction ensured that those highly lethal, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles will never be used by terrorists to attack a civilian airliner.
PM/WRA is funding the Regional Center on Small Arms (RECSA), based in Nairobi, Kenya, to mark weapons using marking machines. As a result, 47 percent of the firearms owned by the Burundian National Police have already been marked with individual serial numbers and country of origin and entered into an electronic database. Once marked and registered, these arms will be better accounted for and stored more securely to better prevent illicit pilferage and trafficking.
PM/WRA support for weapons marking is a key component to identifying arms trafficking routes in the central African region and increasing accountability within Burundi itself. Efforts to trace trafficked weapons back to owners have already led to arrests. In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, PM/WRA also funded the construction of 38 police micro-armories in Burundi, where newly marked weapons are now safely stored. This project successfully employed local builders and helped to reassure communities of sustained police protection in restive areas of Bujumbura, the capital.
In addition, Burundi's stockpile reduction efforts continue and also contribute to efforts to prevent illicit use of these stockpiles and to mitigate the risk to civilians from accidental detonations. MAG (Mines Advisory Group), a non-governmental organization funded by a grant from PM/WRA, is currently on track to safely dispose of 7,000 more excess Burundian small arms and 70 tons of additional obsolete ammunition. In doing so, this project will also ensure that thousands of Burundians living near ammunition depots will directly benefit from the reduced risk of a catastrophic depot explosion. The recent disaster at a munitions depot in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo earlier this month, which killed and injured so many people and devastated parts of the capital, is the latest tragic example of the threat posed by “dangerous depots.” Burundi is to be commended for proactively dealing with this emerging threat.
The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement continues to provide a wide range of Conventional Weapons Destruction assistance (humanitarian mine action assistance, battle area clearance, UXO remediation at depots that blew up, physical security and stockpile management, and small arms/light weapons mitigation including MANPADS destruction) to other countries in Africa too, as well as in Central and South America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and throughout Asia and the Pacific. To learn more, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, or visit www.state.gov/t/pm/wra.