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In the runup to a key international arms-control conference in New York in July, Japan has already missed one of its primary targets — securing the post of chairman for its senior arms-control expert.

The ministerial conference, sponsored by the United Nations, will run for 12 days starting July 9 to discuss controlling the illegal trade in small arms as a means of preventing regional conflicts.

About 500,000 people are said to have been killed by small arms annually since the end of the Cold War, compared with 20,000 people killed by antipersonnel land mines annually.

The conference is the result of a Japan-sponsored resolution adopted last autumn at the U.N. General Assembly. Three candidates were put forward to chair the conference, including Mitsuro Donowaki, a Foreign Ministry adviser and former Japanese diplomat experienced in arms-control negotiations.

Japan wanted Donowaki — chairman of a U.N. experts group on small arms control from 1996 to 1999 — to take the post to demonstrate its commitment to promoting global arms control and reduction.

But in preparatory talks in New York in late March, U.N. member nations selected Colombian diplomat Camillo Reyes, who had the backing of many developing countries. Michael Weston, a British diplomat, was the third candidate.

Realizing it was difficult to beat Colombia for the appointment, Tokyo proposed in the final days of the 12-day preparatory talks that the conference be jointly chaired by Donowaki and Reyes, according to Foreign Ministry officials, who requested anonymity.

This met with objection from some member nations, the officials said, but in a last-minute compromise, Donowaki was granted the post of first vice chairman.

As a result, Donowaki will preside over the first two days of the 12-day conference, during which ministers will deliver their speeches. The remaining 10 days will be attended by working-level officials only.

“The most important thing is not who will serve as chairman but what will be discussed and determined at the conference,” said a senior ministry official, who is closely involved in the conference and asked not to be named.

But Japanese officials are apparently not as happy as they would have been if Donowaki had been chosen chairman.

Japan’s sponsorship of the U.N. resolution on the upcoming conference is one of various initiatives it has taken since the end of the Cold War to promote control of conventional arms.

In January 1992, a U.N. transfer-registration system for conventional weapons, such as aircraft and tanks, was established under a resolution jointly sponsored by Japan and the then 12-nation European Community.

A few years ago, Japan set up a U.N. fund to promote efforts to control small arms in developing countries. At a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight major countries in Miyazaki Prefecture in July, Japan pledged to boost the fund by $700,000 to nearly $2 million.

It followed through on the promise later and plans to contribute an additional $900,000 in fiscal 2001, which started April 1.

At the Miyazaki meeting, foreign ministers also adopted an action plan for preventing regional conflicts, especially in Africa, through the control of small arms and other means. The G-8 comprises the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia.

Most recently, Japan and the EU launched a unique one-year “Weapons for Development” program in Cambodia. Under this program, economic aid will be offered for the development of the country’s rural areas in return for local citizens surrendering their firearms.

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