03 September 2008

Timor's controversial gun amnesty ends

ABC Online 1 September 2008 20:30:09

East Timor's six month gun amnesty has ended. The opposition is describing it as pointless, saying the government should be trying to recover the weapons taken from police during the 2006 crisis. But the government is now focusing on getting its new gun law through parliament.

Presenter: Stephanie MarchSpeakers: Afonso De Jesus, East Timor's Interim Police Commander; Estanislau Da Silva, former interim prime minister and current Freitilin MP.

MARCH: The police operation to collect illegal weapons from civilians began immediately after the president was shot by a gang of armed rebels in February.Under the operation, citizens who handed in weapons of their own volition would not be prosecuted.

Interim Police Commander Afonso De Jesus says the Task Force assigned to the operation netted mostly antique and home made weapons - such as hunting tools and makeshift arrows known as rama ambons.

DE JESUS: We find also some explosives like hand grenade.

MARCH: A government spokesman told the ABC it was necessary to refrain from prosecution because if the process wasn't voluntary it would have been impossible to find hidden weapons in the districts.The UN says the campaign provided an opportunity to educate and inform people that they will be held accountable for illegal weapons possession in the future.But the Fretilin opposition party has criticsed the operation, saying it is futile to collect home made weapons.

Estanislau Da Silva is the former interim prime minister and current Freitilin MP.DA SILVA: I think it is a bit pointless because traditional weapons they can hand in one today, and they can make two or three or four or five after tomorrow - those traditional weapons they are usually for hunting, so it's not going to make that much difference because it can be easily done at home.

MARCH: Estanislau Da Silva says the police should focus their attention on trying to recover the many weapons taken from police and military armories during the crisis in 2006, and follow up the process with prosecutions.

DA SILVA: I think the government should tell the public how many weapons are still at large, that were taken from the police arsenal, and the FFDTL the ones that were taken by Alfredo Reinado are still at large, and what they are going to do to get those weapons back, because those weapons are semi-automatic weapons.

MARCH: Meanwhile parliament is due to resume sitting later this month, and one of the first items on the agends is the government's proposed gun law.

Earlier this year when the draft law was tabled, several parliamentarians almost came to blows over the provision that would grant licenses for civilians to carry arms. Estanislau Da Silva says the idea is too upsetting for the people of East Timor to consider… after the country was torn apart by illegally armed civilian militias during 2006.

DA SILVA: We don't agree with it. We certainly agree we should have regulation on the use of arms for security forces. This is a different thing. Not a gun law to legalise the use of weapon for civilian. This law is to legalise the use of weapons by civilians and it is very dangerous - people are still traumatized.

MARCH: Current legislation developed by the UN transitional administration after independence in 1999 does allow for civilians to be granted licenses "in exceptional circumstances" and only if the licensed activity is in the "public interest".

A report by the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva based independent research group, warns the new draft law could "lower the threshold" for those eligible to carry arms. A government spokesman told the ABC the draft legislation is part of updating from the UN transitional law, and is designed to ensure that licenses are only issued to those who can justify the need to carry arms for specific duties.

But Interim Police Commander Afonso De Jesus also says it's too dangerous to allow citizens to carry arms, and only the police and military should be authorized to do so.

DE JESUS: because this belongs to the gov inst to use, to protect the this country but for the civilian, I myself I don't' agree with the law that pass by the parliament on this

MARCH: do you disagree with the recent gun law put to possibly arm private citizens.

DE JESUS: Yes, I disagree.

MARCH: East Timor's Parliament is due to resume sitting on the 15th of this month.

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