Weapons’ mess continues [Archives:2003/626/Front Page]

March 10 2003

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
The Yemeni government failed to convince the Parliament in a 6-year tenure to endorse the law to regulate arms possession. The bill has been stuck in the parliament, which ended up its term last Friday without endorsing the law. This means that the amended law debated by a committee in the parliament will be shifted to the coming parliament. The new parliament is to be formed after the upcoming parliamentary elections on April 27th. Political observers believe this is a landslide victory for Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar, Speaker of Parliament and leader of Hashid Tribe and Islah party as well, winning the battle with other tribal figures against the government.
MP Sultan al-Barakani, head of GPC caucus in the parliament said that MPs were short of time to debate the law and endorse it and that there are some figures who do not want the law to see the light. He pointed out that the law will be the business of the next parliament.
The question of arms possession in Yemen has become a major headache for the government which believes that there must be a law to regulate and control this issue, as arms have been a main source of violence and terrorism. The government believes that enforcing control on arms possession is part of its campaign against terrorist elements. It also feels that this issue is one of the main reasons that curb its efforts to achieve security and stability as well as development.
Arms possession and carrying is no longer a sign of manhood and part of the Yemeni culture as tribesmen used to think but it has rather become a means for kidnapping, theft, and all sorts of crimes. The possession of firearms in some remote tribal areas has made it difficult for the government to control these areas like Marib, Al-Jawf , Sa'dah and Shabwa. It made possible for terrorists to carry out their terrorist operations even near the airport of Sana'a as some terrorists fired at the Hunt oil company plane and other similar operations.
Reports of the ministry of interior reveal that weapons have encouraged the spread of crime in the society. It has been reported that 2000 people fell victims of armed conflicts. These reports blame it on proliferation of so much weaponry. In some areas people resort to gun fighting as a way to score their accounts. We have heard about so many tribal fightings of various reasons while the government kept mute and did not interfere at all.
The government has been since 1997 demanding the parliament to endorse a draft law to regulate this issue. But the parliament was not convinced with a new law to replace the law of 1992. Al-Ahmar has repeatedly said that ''we do not need a new law but enactment of the first one.''
The law of 1992 which has not been implemented yet, does not impose strict rules on arms possession; it allows the possession and carrying of arms with a license issued by several authorities. It entails that if someone is caught possessing a gun, he should be fined with YR 10000 but it does not dictate that the gun should be confiscated. All these lapses in the law turned the issue into chaos.
As the new law was totally rejected by the parliament, the government incorporated some amendments into the first law by the end of last January and presented it to the parliament for discussion and approval. Some tribal figures who are suspected of having links with the issue of arms smuggling and trading have also strongly rejected the new law which imposes some strict and tough measures against those who possess and trade in this business.
According to reports, there are over 60 million pieces of arms in Yemen most of them have been brought into the country through smuggling. Some estimates put the ratio of arms to people at 3-to-1. However, many people do not possess arms. There are various types of weapons like Kalashnikovs, artilleries, cannons, mortars, anti-aircraft guns..etc from different countries like Russia, US, Ukraine, Bulgaria, France, Brazil, Korea, China tc. People in Yemen prefer the Russian Kalashnikov as it is cheap in comparison with the US and because they have experienced it for a long time. There are different arms markets spread in Sadaa, Thamar, Marib and Sana'a. The most famous ones are those of Jihanah 30 km outside Sana'a and that of Al-Talh in Sadaa.

Of course, the unstable political situation in the country as well as the in-fightings between the south and north has been a major reason behind the spread of the weapons in the society. During this time of political unrest people felt insecure and therefore they felt the need for a sort of self-defense and self-protection.
Advocate Abdulaziz al-Baghdadi believes that the sense of chaos, injustice forces people to find a way to protect themselves and their properties. Also, throughout history, people in Yemen got accustomed to this issue of arms possession and it developed with them as part of their culture and tradition and possessing them is a symbol of status and manhood. Firing into the air to celebrate weddings, the birth of a baby boy or the arrival of a male guest is part of the culture.
Despite this, many people feel now that it is no more like this and that the society should be civilized, provided that the government takes the responsibility for doing justice and protecting everyone in the community without any sort of tribal or regional discrimination. Of course, the process of disarmament or controlling this problem will take time. Observers believe that this is a step towards establishing a civil society and enhancing security and the rule of law. But the question remains to be asked whether the new parliament would pass the law. More importantly, will the law even be enacted?