Five dead in clashes amid crackdown on arms:Marib suffers bloody crackdown [Archives:2005/813/Front Page]

February 3 2005

By Reuters & Yemen Times Staff
At least five men died and 10 were wounded in a shootout provoked when the Yemeni army tried to stop tribesmen in a remote tribal region in the north of the country carrying arms in public, witnesses said on Tuesday.

The Yemeni authorities are trying to impose a ban on illegal weapons in the Marib province near Saudi Arabia.

It was not clear what started the shootout but at least one soldier was killed, the witnesses said.

This comes in a time Riyadh is battling a wave of militant violence blamed on Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, has been working with Sanaa to stop arms smuggling over its long, porous border with Yemen where weapons are widely available.

Violence in Yemen is quite common due to the high number of firearms held by civilians, which is officially estimated at more than 60 million pieces, i.e., an average of more than three weapons per person. A disarmament law is yet to be approved by the Yemeni parliament to limit the number of weapons in the hands of citizens.

An attempt was made in September 1999 by the Ministry of Interior to establish security checkpoints in the main streets to inspect cars and confiscate unlicensed weapons. At the time, tens of thousands of light arms were confiscated and it was declared that unlicensed weapons would not be allowed in main cities.

The Minister of Interior then confessed however that it was not possible then to launch a countrywide disarmament campaign due to the fact that most tribes think that this process is against their traditions, and because the sources of these weapons are still open. Hence, a confiscated weapon is still available for smugglers, and importers.