MAG Involvement with SA/LW

by Steve Priestley [ Mines Advisory Group ]

In less than 20 years, Mines Advisory Group, involved in the identification and destruction of small arms/light weapons, has made a real impact. Maintaining technical support at hand-in points, offering capacity-building training and conducting assessments of stockpile management are just a few of the services MAG provides.

Weapon destruction at the Central Logistics Base, Kinshasa, DRC.
Photo courtesy of MAG-DRC

Mines Advisory Group first became involved in destruction of small arms/light weapons during the 1990s. United Nations peacekeeping troops in Angola and Cambodia were overseeing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)1 projects, as well as collecting weapons and ammunition. As MAG had trained demining teams in areas where the activity was taking place, the troops sought its advice and support, which involved verifying the safety of weapons, weapons systems and ammunition that had been handed in, and conducting their subsequent destruction.

In 2001, large abandoned stockpiles of ammunition were identified in southern Sudan. Reports from local communities confirmed that weapons and ammunition were being stolen and trafficked across the adjoining Congolese and Ugandan borders, and that the stockpiles posed a threat to the communities if they exploded. Due to the high number of trafficked stockpiles located during a formal survey of central Equatoria, MAG secured specific funding for their destruction from the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State.

Present Activities

In early 2006, during mine- and unexploded ordnance-clearance activities in Equateur province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, MAG identified large stockpiles of weapons and ammunition that had been handed in during DDR activities, or were surplus to army and police requirements. The stockpiles were poorly maintained and insecure. Coordination with the United Nations Organization Mission in the DRC and the United Nations Development Programme led to the discovery that further stockpiles were located throughout the country.

This knowledge of existing stockpiles prompted MAG to establish its first large-scale weapons-destruction project. The project involves centralized destruction of SA/LW at the Congolese Army’s Central Logistics Base in Kinshasa using hydraulic shears. Following destruction of surplus weapons stored at the base, surplus stocks from outlying military regions are now being shipped to Kinshasa for destruction. The workshop is operated by soldiers from the Army’s Logistics Brigade, who have received training from MAG. A MAG technician supports management of the operation and also conducts quality-assurance activities on the team.

Significant progress has been made in ridding the DRC of its surplus stockpiles. Between May 2007 and October 2008, gun-destruction activities demolished 81,745 weapons and 288 tonnes (317 U.S. tons) of ammunition.

Projects were established in Burundi and the Republic of Congo during 2007 supporting the destruction of man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), surplus weapons and unsafe ammunition, as well as promoting stockpile-management training and physical security improvements. More than 400 MANPADS of various types (mainly SAM-7b and SA-162) and 5,000 weapons have been destroyed. Both countries have expanded their projects; they now receive funds from multiple donors and offer support to police and army activities.

SAM-7b MANPADS awaiting destruction, Burundi.
Photo courtesy of MAG-Burundi

In Burundi, MAG’s support to Dutch-government-led security-sector reforms includes surveying all police facilities nationwide where weapons are stored to identify the type and number of surplus or seized weapons requiring destruction, determining necessary improvements in physical security, and discovering training needs of the police armories. The survey was completed in the southern region of Burundi in January 2009, which complemented surveys conducted in the western and northern regions in February. The surveys revealed that there is an overabundance of SA/LW, insufficient security at the armories and a lack of proper training for the armory workers.3 Phase two of the survey, consisting of destruction of SA/LW, security improvements and increased training, will be implemented between March 2009 and April 2010. This deadline will ensure that security improves before the general elections take place in 2010.4

MAG projects in Iraq, Somalia and Sudan focus on the destruction of unsecured, abandoned stockpiles rather than weapons, due to the significant internal and regional security threats these munitions pose. With donor agreement, MAG takes a holistic approach to this clearance work and destroys items that fall outside the SA/LW category but still pose a security threat (such as artillery projectiles).

Many of MAG’s SA/LW activities take place in the Great Lakes Region and Horn of Africa, and through the course of coordinating and planning activities, MAG became aware of the Regional Centre for Small Arms and Light Weapons based in Nairobi, Kenya (RECSA). The centre is an institutional framework formed because of the Nairobi Declaration.5 Its goal is to prevent and obliterate the stockpiling and illicit trafficking of SA/LW in the Great Lakes Region and Horn of Africa by coordinating the efforts of member states. Following initial contacts and discussions during 2007, MAG signed a Memorandum of Understanding with RECSA at the beginning of 2008 to provide technical advice and support to RECSA and its member states. Future plans, from mid-2009 onward, will focus on capacity-building and technical skills transfer.

In November 2008, MAG established its newest SA/LW project with the help of British government funding. A MAG central destruction workshop is being set up in Kigali, Rwanda, to carry out destruction of surplus, expired or unstable munitions weapons identified by the government.

The Future

MAG will contribute to the International Small Arms Control Standards currently being developed by the U.N. Coordinating Action on Small Arms, taking into account the realities found on the ground and the levels of support and training required in many of the countries where it has operated to date.

MAG continues to seek new opportunities with countries, institutions and organizations that require technical support. It provides the following SA/LW remediation and stockpile-management activities globally:

MAG is implementing SA/LW remediation projects in Burundi, DRC, Iraq, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Somalia (Puntland) and Sudan.


Steve Priestley is MAG’s Director for International Projects and has worked for the organization since 1995 in various field and headquarters positions. In his present role, Priestley monitors and evaluates MAG projects in Africa, offers support to programs during start-up or emergency response activities, and assists the development of MAG’s SA/LW projects globally. He is an ISO-accredited Lead Auditor and member of the Institute of Risk Management.


  1. DDR stands for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Considered a successful strategy for peacekeeping operations, disarmament refers to the physical removal of weapons from ex-combatants. Demobilization refers to the breaking up of armed groups, while reintegration entails the reintroduction of former combatants to society without the threat of future armed conflict.
  2. For more information on each of these munitions, see the Mine Action Information Center’s “Munitions Reference.” Accessed 29 May 2009.
  3. “MAG CWMD Global Update, January/February 2009.” Mines Advisory Group. Accessed 29 May 2009.
  4. “Where We Work: Burundi.” Mines Advisory Group. March 2009. Accessed 29 May 2009.
  5. Signed in March 2005, the Nairobi Declaration is an acknowledgement by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Great Lakes Region and Horn of Africa of the problems associated with the proliferation and trafficking of SA/LW. Accessed 12 June 2009.

Contact Information

Steve Priestley
Director for International Projects
Mines Advisory Group
Tel: +44 7818 410 479 / +88 216 212 42 373
Web site: