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U.N. opens conference on illegal arms trade

500 million weapons are available on black market

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UNITED NATIONS — A U.N. conference on the illegal trade of small arms opened Monday with the unveiling of a giant sculpture featuring more than 7,000 weapons once used in crimes, warfare and terrorism around the world.

More than 500 million small arms and light weapons are available on black markets and are often put in the hands of child soldiers. Small arms are the biggest global killer apart from AIDS.

Representatives from 189 nations as well as advocates on both sides of the gun-control debate will sit down together at the United Nations for two weeks to discuss all aspects of the illicit small arms trade.

Getting an agreement by July 20 on ways to halt the lucrative business of trafficking in pistols, assault rifles and machine guns is going to be tough, diplomats and arms experts say.

Some countries want to ensure that their profits are not touched. Others oppose interference in their right to self-defense.

As a result, the program of action — a non-binding document to be adopted at the end of the conference on July 20 — is unlikely to include any of the tough measures in the latest draft.

"I think perhaps the document is not going to be as strong as we would have liked, but it is a step in the right direction," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.

Arms trafficking is the second largest illicit business after drugs.

The United States is likely to reject a proposal in the draft that calls for small arms to be supplied to governments only.