JOHANNESBURG The developing world must press for a strong treaty to limit the trade in conventional arms, which is "dangerously out of control" and hampering growth in poor nations, Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu said on Thursday.
The former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town said developing countries must make their views known quickly as the United Nations works on a treaty that could regulate sales of conventional weapons, particularly small arms.
"The arms trade is the modern slave trade; it is dangerously out of control," Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his peaceful opposition to apartheid, said in a joint statement with the British group Oxfam International.
"This month governments have a historic opportunity to use their influence to curb this horrible industry ... governments must respond."
A total of 153 countries at the United Nations voted last year to start work on the treaty, recognizing the need to control the sale of arms that have fuelled conflicts in Africa and other parts of the world.
Gun control advocates want a treaty to strictly regulate the trade in small arms -- weapons such as AK-47 rifles that can be fired by an individual and easily transported by arms traders.
Countries have been asked to submit proposals for the treaty by the end of June, but there has been little response from the developing nations, Oxfam said.
"For too long the arms trade has been run for the benefit of rich countries at the expense of poor countries," said Shehnilla Mohamed, Oxfam's program director for southern Africa.
Oxfam released research indicating an uncontrolled global arms trade threatened the economies of developing nations, with tourism in South Africa, Kenya, Jamaica and Nigeria particularly vulnerable.
Business leaders in South Africa, which has one of the world's highest rates of violent crime, have expressed fears that crime, if left unchecked, could deter tourism and foreign investment in Africa's biggest economy.