26 November 2008

Radio Australia: East Timor Still Facing Weapons Control Challenges

Radio Australia 25 November 2008 East Timor Still Facing Weapons Control Challenges - A new report by the Small Arms Survey group says East Timor still has a serious challenges regarding weapons control and management with controlling weapons.

Presenter: Stephanie March

Speaker: Edward Rees, Author of the Small Arms Survey report on East Timor

STEPHANIE MARCH: The mismanagement of government stockpiles of weapons by authorities is a common thread throughout East Timor's relationship with small arms over the past 50 years. Most recently, soldier turned rebel Alfredo Reinado and his followers who were in possession of police weapons shot and seriously injured President Jose Ramos Horta in February this year. Weak government gun control first became a problem in 1959 in the mountain district of Viqueque when a group of anti-imperialist rebels seized 48 weapons from government offices and launched a bloody yet unsuccessful rebellion. At various times over the next five decades non-state groups used weapons taken from both the Portuguese colonisers and then ruling Indonesian authorities to wreak havoc across the tiny nation.

EDWARD REES: And finally in 2006 and 2007, government weapons were misused or distributed by Timorese politicians and or senior members of the security forces and then those weapons were then used against civilians and or their opponents.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Edward Rees is the author of a new report by the Small Arms Survey called "Dealing with the Kilat," which means "gun" in the local Tetum language.

EDWARD REES: So the story from 1959 until 2007 is that there isn't an illicit small arms problem in Timor but there is a problem with managing the weapons in government stockpiles.

STEPHANIE MARCH: His report which is an historical overview cites a number of reasons for poor weapons control.

EDWARD REES: I think the matter of physically weak or inconsequential infrastructure in the form of armouries needs to be addressed, there are weak controls over how weapons and in particular ammunition are checked in and checked out.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Most of the guns distributed in 2006 and 2007 have been accounted for but Edward Rees says there's little indication that weapons management in the police force has improved since the crisis two years ago. Interim Police Commander Alfonso de Jesus told Radio Australia there are a small number of officers who fail to surrender their weapons at the end of a shift. Edward Rees says before 2006 each special police unit was issued with a particular model of weapon. The Rapid Response Unit had FNC rifles, the Border Patrol was issued with HK-33s and the Police Reserve Unit had Steyrs.

EDWARD REES: Now you see that rifles are moving around the police service in what seems like an almost totally ad hoc fashion. So one unit will possess all three types of weapons. I don't know how weapons are, or by what means they are distributed but it would appear that if an officer prefers a green gun as opposed to a black gun that's what he gets.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Alfredo Reinado and his followers were disarmed in 2006. In 2007 they were able to take a number of HK-33 rifles from the Police Border Patrol Unit and roam free in the mountains for the next year. Ironically Edward Rees says it could have been one of those HK-33s that was donated by the Government of Malaysia while Jose Ramos Horta was foreign minister that was used to shoot him as President in February this year. No one predicted the attack on the leadership but Edward Rees says the months following were the first time in history a Timorese Government has taken seriously the problem of arms control. In February the government launched 'Operation Halibur' which successfully applied pressure from the security forces to convince the rebel group to surrender its weapons peacefully.

EDWARD REES: Between July and September of this year something called 'Operation Kilat' which was designed to be a voluntary surrendering of weapons, arms and munitions to the government in which thousands of home made weapons, primarily bladed weapons were surrendered. But also 150 to 200 home made fire arms were surrendered. Something in the vicinity of 100 to 150 grenades were surrendered and thousands upon thousands of rounds of ammunition were surrendered.

STEPHANIE MARCH: In June, the government introduced a new gun law to Parliament but it was widely criticised for seeking to allow civilians to be armed and because it put the power to issue gun licences solely in the hand of the Police Commander. A revised version of the law is to be put before Parliament in the coming weeks.

Original Story at http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/programguide/stories/200811/s2428472.htm

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