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In a fresh show of solidarity with Europe toward arms control and prevention of regional conflicts, Japan will launch its portion of a unique “guns for butter” joint project in Cambodia next month.

Japan and the 15-nation European Union hope the $900,000 Weapons for Development program for the impoverished Southeast Asian country will become a model project for preventing regional conflicts and promoting economic development in the rest of the developing world, especially in Africa.

The EU has recently embarked on its own portion of the joint project. Full inauguration will come ahead of a key international conference on control of small arms to be held in July at the United Nations in New York.

According to Foreign Ministry sources, Weapons for Development is a pilot project aimed at realizing lasting peace and stability and thereby promoting economic development in Cambodia, especially in rural areas.

The one-year pilot project will be introduced in the western Cambodian province of Pursat and the eastern province of Kratie. Under the project, Japan and the EU will provide economic and technical assistance to the two provinces in return for local citizens surrendering small arms.

Economic assistance will be used to build infrastructure — roads, schools, health centers and public lavatories — while technical assistance will be offered to train local police officers.

“Koban” police boxes will also be introduced on an experimental basis.

At their regular summit in Tokyo in late July, top Japanese and EU leaders agreed to cooperate in assisting Phnom Penh’s small firearms-collection efforts. The Japan-EU summit was attended by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, French President Jacques Chirac and European Commission President Romano Prodi.

Weapons for Development, which was worked out through consultations between working-level Japanese and EU officials, is the latest in a series of cooperative efforts during the past decade between Tokyo and Brussels on arms control and prevention of regional conflicts.

In January 1992, the U.N. established a transfer-registration system for conventional weapons. Japan and the then 12-nation European Community took the joint initiative in setting up the system, under which more than 90 U.N. member nations have reported the volume of their trade in conventional weapons, including aircraft and tanks, to the world body every year.

Since Cambodia’s civil war ended in the early 1990s, Japan has led international assistance efforts for Cambodia. Japan is by far Cambodia’s largest single aid donor, extending nearly 10 billion yen in official development assistance annually.

But Cambodia’s poor security conditions, due largely to the existence of armed groups, have hampered efforts to develop its rural areas.

Huge numbers of arms are believed to be in circulation in Cambodia. Although the Phnom Penh government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has tried to collect small arms from armed groups in the rural areas, it apparently has not made much progress.

The sources said that the $900,000 cost of the joint project will be equally shouldered by Japan and the EU. Japan will finance its share of the costs through a special Japanese-financed fund within the U.N. and ODA.

The U.N. fund was set up just a few years ago to promote efforts to control small arms in developing countries. At their annual meeting in Miyazaki Prefecture in late July, foreign ministers from the Group of Eight major countries adopted an action program for preventing regional conflicts through tighter controls of small arms and other means.

At the Miyazaki meeting, Japan pledged to boost the size of the U.N. fund by $700,000 to nearly $2 million and later followed through on the promise. It also plans to contribute an additional $900,000 to the U.N. fund in fiscal 2001, which begins Sunday.

The G-8 consists of the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia.

In 1998, the World Bank launched a similar project for Cambodia called the Cambodia Veteran Assistance Program. But the program fell through, primarily because many Cambodians only handed in unusable firearms for money while keeping usable ones.

The U.N., the central government of Cambodia and nongovernmental organizations will cooperate with Japan and the EU in introducing the Weapons for Development program, the sources said.

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