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No weapons burning at Dam Square

17 January 2007 - To promote his documentary film about the arms trade, director Sander Francken wanted to organise a weapons burning at Dam Square. The plan could not be carried out, because disused weapons are simply being sold. There is a distinct possibility that they end up in the hands of warlords.

The Netherlands supports the destruction of weapons in countries such as Mali, Cambodia and former Yugoslavia. This is rather symbolic: during the past fifteen to twenty years, eight million weapons have been destroyed, but a hundred to 135 million new weapons have been produced in the same period.

Francken approached the Centrum District about his plan to organise a weapons burning at Dam Square. “The person in charge of course immediately says ‘no’, because it will only mean trouble for him. So we directly approached alderwoman Anne-Lize van der Stoel, who was in principle very open to the plan”. The most important condition was to put it in a broader context, for the district does not consider it its task to promote films.

Incidentally, burning weapons is no easy job. “You have to create a fire which will last for hours, and what remains is scrap metal, in which the weapons can still be recognised. But the metal has been rendered useless, and the plastic parts are of course gone. The remains can be used in works of art, which often happens”.

The next step was to obtain weapons. Francken had heard that disused weapons go to the blast furnaces in IJmuiden, but this turned out to be untrue. An employee of Francken investigated the issue and ended up at the government department responsible for military surplus. “There she faced a somewhat indignant gentleman who indicated that weapons cannot be destroyed, because they are sold”.

This means that the Netherlands puts disused weapons on the market. Such second hand weapons are popular among warlords, for whom new weapons are too expensive. Francken therefore thinks that there is a ‘distinct possibility’ that disused weapons from the Netherlands fall into the hands of shady persons.

Although the weapons burning had to be cancelled, Francken’s documentary did attract quite a lot of attention. At the end of February, the film will be screened for a delegation of the European Commission and the European Parliament. In itself, such a screening is unusual, but “there are a number of issues in the film that the EC is responsible for and they were not aware of the seriousness of the abuses”.

The documentary Dealing and wheeling in small arms will be screened at het Ketelhuis (until next Tuesday daily at 4.30 pm except on Sunday). The film can also be seen at the Lux Theatre (Nijmegen) and Lumière Cinema (Maastricht). Background: Control Arms. Illustration: weapons burning, scene from the trailer. The entire trailer can be downloaded here.


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