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LatAm is worst region for gun crime, U.N. says

Quito, Dec 16 (EFE).- The head of the Firearms Team of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, said Tuesday in Quito that Latin America is the region that most uses guns to commit violent crimes.

“Latin America is the region where guns are most frequently used to commit violent crimes,” Italy’s Simonetta Grassi told Efe, adding that the weapons “help strengthen criminal organizations.”

She believes that arms traffickers’ ties with criminal gangs are “explosive and extremely dangerous,” as are their connections with terrorists.

According to the expert, “we always used to distinguish guns employed in armed conflict from those used in crime. Now it’s much harder to differentiate them.”

“The mere fact that this region has the world’s highest rate of shooting deaths is reason enough to take a serious view of the problem,” she said.

Grassi, who is in Quito attending an international seminar on policies to stop arms trafficking, said the UNODC is also “very concerned” about the illicit gun trade “because it is clearly in league with drug trafficking,” which “makes the problem even worse.”

“Obviously,” she said, “the wrongful use of guns is a concern. The indices of violence include all kinds of crime…but when arms are trafficked and help finance criminal gangs, it equips them with the military power to defy governments. That shows it’s not an isolated problem – it multiplies the problem.”

To improve the situation, she said that countries have to impose gun control by knowing how many there are, and where and how they are being kept.

She also said that sensible, effective regulations are needed for owning and bearing arms.

“If a country decides to ban the manufacture of guns by law, as is the case in Ecuador, it cannot tolerate people or organizations making them illegally,” she said.

In fighting drug trafficking, she considered regional cooperation essential, because many countries have borders that are “very porous, almost uncontrollable.”

It is also indipensable to have a “wide vision” and to understand that weapons are used for crimes of every kind, and that security forces must expand their investigations to discover the origin of the weapon used in each particular crime.

The seminar, which will continue until next Thursday and is organized by Ecuador’s Security Coordinating Ministry and the UNODC, seeks to offer technical assistance while promoting international cooperation and the exchange of best practices in the region to stop arms trafficking.