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24 September 2014
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New series Gunrunners uncovers secrets of the illegal arms trade

The illegal trade in small arms and light weapons has been identified by the UN as one of the world's greatest challenges.

Guns kill half a million people a year - 1,300 a day on average.

Just over half of the lives lost are the result of armed conflict, the rest are due to crime.

There are also huge economic costs. The Inter-American Development Bank calculates the cost of gun violence across the Americas since 1990 to be as high as $170 billion dollars.

In a new four part series Gunrunners (BBC World Service from Friday 4 October), award winning investigative journalist Philip Fiske travels to El Salvador, Macedonia, Sierra Leone and the United States to investigate illegal arms; the people who deal in them and efforts to police the trade.

He talks to a sergeant who fought with the rebel Revolutionary United Front army in Sierra Leone until the war ended in 2001.

The former radio operator claims businessmen from Guinea were dealing undercover in cocoa, for which they paid the RUF with guns taken from an army barracks near the Sierra Leone/Guinea border.

"I was there," he says.

And Rafi Saditi, a guerrilla commander of the National Liberation Army in Macedonia, admits the guns used by him and his forces in 2001 came originally from Albania.

They were looted from military depots in 1997, used against government forces there, then smuggled into Kosovo and used against Serb troops by the Kosovo Liberation Army, ending up in Macedonia - their third conflict in four years.

Gunrunners also investigates the economics of arms dealing.

Mexican-based US agent JJ Ballesteros, from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, says guns increase in price the further south they travel in Central and Latin America - from recent to potential conflict zone.

Kalashnikov rifles obtainable for $100 in Nicaragua sell for $300 in Costa Rica; $500 in Panama and $2,500 in Colombia.

Police officer Adrian Garcia, a consultant to the US government, says guns are smuggled in TV sets, hidden inside crates of food, even dead bodies.

A popular method is to have mules carry different gun parts to their destination. Coming back to the US are consignments of drugs, especially cocaine.

Talking to experts about the efforts of the international community to tackle the problem, Fiske finds many believe America's war on terrorism will make things worse.

Although arms smugglers may find it harder to operate because of greater scrutiny of terrorist funds, there's likely to be arms inflation, with an increase in weapons supplied by the US to governments and other groups around the world.

A UN conference "On the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects" held in New York last year failed to secure any binding international agreement on the issue.

America, among others, was unwilling to commit.

Sarah Meek of the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa says: "They said the national interests of the US had to be paramount and they had the right to arm whatever group they wanted."

Notes for Editors

Philip Fiske (28) has worked as a freelance reporter, producer and presenter for BBC World Service since 1997.

He has worked for several departments at the World Service including Arts, Current Affairs, Education, Youth and News - reporting from Iran, Peru, the Falklands, South Africa, and the Caribbean.

He has also reported for BBC Radio 1, Radio 4 and Radio Five Live, and written for various magazines and websites including the Irish Times, BBC On Air and AOL Netscape.

His work has been featured several times on Pick of the World (BBC World Service) and Pick of the Week (Radio 4).

His three part series Shadow Trade (2000, BBC World Service) on the international illegal drugs business won a Sony Silver award in the category Best News documentary - and was described by the Daily Telegraph as "first-rate investigative journalism".

He currently lives and works in London.

Gunrunners can be heard on Fridays from 4 October at 8.30pm (repeated Saturdays 2.30am; Mondays 3.30pm; Tuesdays 10.30am).

Listen online - any time during the week from Friday 4 October (updated weekly Friday at 8.30pm) at:



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