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G3 and AK-47 rifles after being disabled by their owners and U.N. military observers. Photo: Peter C. Andersen, Sierra Leone Web
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UN Inspections

In Sierra Leone, West Africa, a team of UN investigators digs through a metal shipping container, the size of a small garage. It's filled with arms turned in by fighters disarming after a decade of bloody civil war.

One man explains, "We have a mix of all types of weapons, pistols, AK47's to even antiaircraft missiles."

The men inspecting the container are part of a team investigating arms trafficking in the region. Their job is to figure out why UN arms embargoes aren't working.

The investigators are hoping to find some scrap of evidence that will tell them where the weapons came from. On this day, they're frustrated. There is no evidence, no documents or labels. All they have are some suspicions and these lead to the former Soviet Union.

Kiev, Ukraine's Motherland Monument Photo: © (1992-2002) Vadim Aristov

In Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, soldiers march down snow-covered steps toward the city's "Motherland Monument." These troops are a remnant of what was once the Second Soviet Army, an 800,000 strong force stationed here. As the Soviet Union collapsed so did Ukraine's military. But the by-product of the Cold War buildup remained, according to UN investigator Johan Peleman.

"We are really talking huge, huge quantities of less sophisticated weaponry: land mines, ammunition, small arms," says Peleman. "All that sort of equipment that wasn't almost worth the trouble to transport back to Russia was left behind. And what most of these countries do, is they just dispose of this weaponry and sell it to the highest bidder."

And that's exactly what happened in Ukraine in the 1990s. As the country hit hard economic times, its surplus stocks of small arms suddenly became prized economic assets. Market forces prevailed and Ukraine's small arms stockpiles began to disappear.

In principle, it was no different from any other sphere of business.

Next: Bargain Basement Arms Sales

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