Government takes steps to control arms bearing [Archives:2007/1018/Front Page]

January 22 2007

Yasser Al-Mayasi
SANA'A, Jan. 21 ) Republican Decree No. 8 of 2007 was issued last week to organize arms bearing to protect senior government officials. Comprising 16 articles, the decree is based on Yemen's Constitution, as well as 1990's Law No. 40 concerning organizing arms bearing and trade.

Under the new decree, the Interior Ministry is tasked with organizing protection for high-ranking officials, whereas bodyguards assigned to escort such officials must abide by numerous conditions. One condition is that guards must not carry arms in public places, markets, hotels or cafeterias unless they are escorting officials as assigned by the Interior Ministry.

Another condition is that bodyguards mustn't enter security or military institutions with arms. All personal arms must remain inside the vehicle prior to entering any such institutions, except for a single pistol carried by one bodyguard when accompanying a distinctive individual inside a security or military institution.

A third condition is that bodyguards always must wear a uniform, obey military regulations and behave well.

A Ministry of Interior department is responsible for training and increasing bodyguards' awareness, supervising and monitoring them and assessing their performance and abidance. The department will continue coordinating with senior officials to ensure that its bodyguards don't bear unlicensed arms.

The decree's bylaw specifies political and national security organizations to organize and assign bodyguards to protect certain personalities as they do their jobs.

The bylaw sets many conditions in order for bodyguards to be granted arms-bearing licenses, the most important of which is that the number of bodyguards mustn't exceed seven for each of the following: prime minister's deputies, Speaker of Parliament's deputies, interior and defense ministers, political and national security chairmen and the supreme court chairman.

A second group of officials including Members of Parliament, Shoura Council members, governors and undersecretaries of defense and security ministers can have a maximum of five bodyguards each. A third group of officials can't have more than three bodyguards each. This group includes deputy governors, managers of departments at military institutions and chiefs of security departments.

Officials in a fourth group can have only two bodyguards each. Such officials include undersecretaries of other ministries and their assistants, as well as other personalities at military institutes and sites.

The bylaw also stipulates protection for persons other than government officials, such as traders and businessmen, as the nature of their work requires safeguarding them. Such individuals can apply to the interior minister to grant them licenses for bodyguards if they meet the legal requirements and pledge to pay for the guards' living costs.

Additionally, businessmen also can hire guards from private security companies licensed by the Interior Ministry. However, the interior minister will determine the number of bodyguards and guns for each businessman, which also applies to foreign foundations and organizations and private firms.

In conformity with the bylaw, the interior minister has the authority to specify the number of bodyguards for each individual, cancel their arms-bearing licenses and withdraw their bodyguards if such a person dies, retires or is dismissed from his job.

Bodyguards and arms-bearing licenses also may be withdrawn if violations occur, such as pointing guns at policemen or other government officials, or if guards mishandle their arms or lend them to others.

However, the bylaw exempts several types of bodyguards from the regulations, such as those for the president, the vice president, the Speaker of Parliament, the prime minister, the Shoura Council chairman and the Higher Judiciary Council chairman.

Researchers fear such a bylaw may not go into effect and question whether the Yemeni government is serious enough to organize arms bearing.

The decree was issued following numerous requests to justify the number of bodyguards and arms-bearing licenses for each individual after official security tallies revealed that more than 70,000 armed bodyguards currently escort important political, military and tribal personalities in Yemen. The numbers confirm that 70 percent of such bodyguards receive regular monthly salaries from military and security institutions, even those guards for tribal sheikhs.

Because all bodyguards are regularly salaried, this motivates tribal sheikhs and other government officials to register an incorrect number of guards, thereby receiving their monthly salaries, which amounts to millions of riyals.

According to crime figures, the past two years witnessed more than 186 crimes, including murders, burglaries and assaults, by gunmen escorting tribal sheikhs. These sheikhs exploit their armed guards when confronting policemen, thereby forcing authorities to engage in negotiations with them to persuade them to surrender their guards, who commit crimes.

Government attempts repeatedly have failed to deal with the negative consequences caused by armed bodyguards, thus shaking the security and stability in several Yemeni areas. What exacerbates the phenomenon is that some tribal sheikhs recruit their fellow tribesmen as bodyguards and give them guns to carry in various places and on major city streets.

Also, it's recently become apparent that, like their fathers, the sons of tribal sheikhs have armed men escorting them on the streets and in public places.

Security officials attribute the majority of shootout incidents to the spread of armed bodyguards, adding that gunmen escorting tribal sheikhs often are involved in various crimes and acts of violence.

Criminologists believe the spread of arms bearing among Yemeni civilians and the absence of tough government measures to control the phenomenon are the primary reasons for the increasing number of murders.