Middle East

Yemen: Moves Afoot to Reduce Number of Firearms in Cities

Thousands of posters are distributed among citizens to raise awareness of the danger of arms. (Photo: Muhammad al-Jabri/IRIN)

"Guns have caused us to suffer and lead a miserable life," said Ashwaq Mohammed, 27, remembering her husband who was killed four years ago in a shooting incident.

"My husband was waiting for lunch in our yard when his close friend jokingly pointed a pistol at his head. A bullet was fired and ended his life."

Ashwaq, from Sanaa Province, is a mother of five, has no job and depends on her family to survive, but her plight is not uncommon.

A recently published Interior Ministry report blamed the accidental firing of firearms for the deaths of thousands of people in Yemen over the past three years, and the authorities have now moved to reduce the number of firearms in the main cities in a bid to stem the deaths.

Over the past three years, about 5,000 deaths and 18,500 injuries have been caused by guns in a total of 24,632 reported incidents, according to the Interior Ministry report.

In late August 2007, in an effort to reduce arms-related crime, the Interior Ministry banned the carrying of arms—including licensed firearms—inside the capital, Sanaa, as well as in provincial capitals. The move is also designed to boost tourism, investment, and development, the ministry said.

The ban stipulates that bodyguards of high-ranking officials are allowed to carry pistols providing they are concealed. Checkpoints have been set up both within and at the entrance to provincial cities.

Mohammed al-Qawsi, deputy minister of interior, said crime had decreased as a result, and the authorities say hundreds of arms have been confiscated since the ban took effect.

Further Efforts Needed

Observers, however, say it will take time and further efforts to rid major cities of people carrying firearms: A bill to regulate the possession of arms has not yet been approved by parliament.

Aydarous al-Naqib, head of the Yemen Socialist Party Block in parliament, told IRIN there was no will among most members of parliament to pass the bill. "The ministry's decision to ban arms is a partial step forward. To achieve success a law needs to be passed banning the use arms," he said.

According to him, people resort to using arms because they do not feel protected. "In the absence of security, people will continue to carry arms for a long time. A safe environment must be provided before people stop using arms, "he said.

Armed clashes in rural areas are a common occurrence. Early this month, armed tribesmen in the southern province of Shabwa seized several oil tankers and the authorities had to use force to subdue them.

"The decision [ban] is sound and important. People have responded to it positively," said Abdul-Rahman Al-Marwani, chairman of Dar Al-Salaam Organization to Combat Revenge and Violence, a local nongovernmental organization (N.G.O.).

He told IRIN his N.G.O. had been engaged in raising awareness about the dangers of carrying arms. "Our campaigns have also helped change the mindset of tribesmen," he said.

"People are now looking for peace. More anti-gun rallies will be held," he said, expressing hope that the move would have an impact on blood feuds and revenge killings, which are still relatively common in rural areas, especially in the provinces of al-Baidha and Dhamar.

Some reports put the number of guns in the country at 40-50 million. According to the Small Arms Survey 2007, published by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies, the United States is the most heavily armed society in the world with 90 guns for every 100 citizens, followed by Yemen with 61 guns per 100 people, then by Finland with 56, Switzerland with 46, Iraq with 39, and Serbia with 38. © IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

From Integrated Regional Information Networks.