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Government battles to regulate small arms

Shayef Taher's children with guns
(Adel Yahya/IRIN)

The Yemeni government is struggling to control the spread of small arms in major cities, despite the two-year-old ban on firearms.

The Interior Ministry's July 2007 ban "somewhat resulted in the disappearance of guns in the capital [Sanaa] and other main cities like Taiz, Ibb and Dhamar only", Khalid al-Ansi, a lawyer at the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, told IRIN in Sanaa. The move, however, does not help in disarming people as they mostly keep guns at home or hide them when passing through security checkpoints, Al-Ansi said.

"The availability of small arms among citizens exacerbated the issue of revenge killings, and lack of public awareness hinders government and civil society efforts to control the spread of arms," Al-Ansi said.

Some, like Shayef Taher, a resident of a Sanaa suburb called Qaa al-Qaidhi, about 25km out of town, are reluctant to give up their guns due to personal safety concerns.

"I am against the government's anti-arms law... I train my children and wife in how to use guns to protect our home from thieves in my absence," Taher said.

Mohammed Ahmad, a garment seller in Sanaa's Shumaila market, said there were some shopkeepers in the market selling pistols and other small guns. "They sell daggers, belts and silver jewellery at their shops to mislead any security patrols in the area. They contact gun buyers by phone," he said.

According to Abdul-Rahman al-Marwani, chairman of Dar Al-Salam Organization, a local NGO tackling the culture of violence, gun shops in the outskirts of Sanaa resumed selling arms to citizens just a few months after the ban was enforced. Many of those shops are in Jehan, 30km southeast of Sanaa, and Arhab, 40km north of Sanaa, he said. "There are 13 weapon markets with hundreds of shops nationwide."

The Yemeni parliament on 27 July traded accusations with the cabinet over the worsening security situation as kidnappings and armed conflicts were increasing, despite heightened security measures to limit the spread of weapons. The cabinet lashed out at MPs from tribal areas opposing the enforcement of the arms ban.

Bearing firearms is part of the tribal culture and "a tribesman can give up everything except his gun", according to some community leaders.

At least 1,200 individuals are either killed or injured by arms misuse annually, said Al-Marwani.

He maintained that citizens did not trust the judiciary and security authorities in settling their disputes, pointing out that some citizens took the law into their own hands because of the ineffectual judiciary system and security apparatus.

A recent survey by the Dar Al-Salam Organization indicates there are more than nine million small arms in Yemen owned by state personnel, tribesmen and vendors.

"We face difficulties disarming people due to complicated revenge killing issues, some of which date back more than 50 years, particularly in the provinces of Mareb, Shabwa and Al-Jawf," Lutf Nisari, an official at the Interior Ministry's Investigation Bureau, conceded. "Recent anti-arm campaigns [were] effective and reduced crime rates in the capital city only."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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