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Japan will extend maximum support toward preparation of an international conference on illicit arms trade that the United Nations General Assembly plans to hold in 2001, State Foreign Secretary Keizo Takemi pledged Monday at the start of a Japan-hosted workshop on regulating small arms.

The Tokyo sessions will explore ways to control the production, use and trade of small arms, such as assault rifles. During an opening address, Takemi said the issue of small arms has increasingly become an international concern.

“Small arms, which are being used as primary weapons in regional conflicts, continue to be the source of a large number of casualties, including innocent civilians,” he said. “Moreover, the inflow of small arms intensifies and prolongs such conflicts which is the case in Kosovo also.”

Representatives of the 23-member U.N. Group of Governmental Experts are taking part in the meeting to compile a report for submission to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan around the end of July, according to the Foreign Ministry.

A public symposium on the issue is also planned at the close of the meeting on Thursday to exchange views between governmental experts and NGOs, the ministry said.

Along with mass-destruction weapons such as ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, the accumulation of small arms during conflicts threatens public order and seriously impedes the rehabilitation and reconstruction process, a ministry official said.

Like the issues of narcotics and terrorism, regulation on small arms requires the concerted effort of many countries, from law enforcement to economic assistance, the official said.

The workshop is being attended by 21 members — Algeria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Sweden and the United States. Also taking part are experts from the U.N. Department for Disarmament Affairs.

Two other group members — South Africa and Mozambique — are absent.

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