A meeting of senior police officers is underway in Mt Hagen to discuss the security aspect of the 2012 national elections. One of the topics that came up, again and again in that meeting, is the prevalence of firearms and the threat they pose on the elections. To show the police bosses the seriousness of the matter, Mt Hagen Police showed the police chiefs two M16 rifles, five other factory-made guns, and eight military issued grenades confiscated from raids into villages around this highlands city.

The demonstration was to send a clear message to the top brass of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary that the accumulation of illegal firearms in the Highlands is a real threat to the coming national elections.

Guns have left thousands traumatised and have the seriously grave potential to bring Papua New Guinea down to its knees. Statistics compiled by the police force, show that there is overwhelming evidence that the majority of serious crimes like robbery, break and enter and stealing and murder involved guns.

In almost all instances of crime, guns, whether home-made or factory-made, were reportedly used, according to former Internal Security Minister Sani Rambi who informed Parliament in July last year during a debate on the gun problem in the country. Police and local leaders in the Highlands – one of four regions in PNG - known for tribal fighting, say the high proliferation and use of firearms in rural communities has the potential to turn the country upside down. Every household now owns a gun illegally. The members of the household contribute money and buy the weapon. Some of the most modern weapons fetch up to K3000. It is a lucrative business.

Apart from guns, there are hand grenades and other explosive devices that are in the hands of the villagers. The media reported early last year that in a tribal fighting in Southern Highlands, a hand grenade was thrown at the enemy positions which blew up five people. The same reports also told of how the police, moving in to stop an ethnic clash in the remote Sembrigi area in that province, had to give up after they were confronted by warriors armed with weapons much superior to their’s.

PNG can talk about development, the multibillion kina liquefied natural gas project and other resource projects, but without law and order, PNG might as well forget everything. That is agreed by businesses as well as senior government ministers.
“The proliferation of illegal guns within our communities is making it very difficult to have law and order,” Mr Rambi had told Parliament last year.

The Government of Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare moved in 2005 to deal with the gun issue in a big way. It established the PNG Guns Control Committee, headed by a former PNG Defence Force Commander Brigadier General Jerry Singirok.
The Committee travelled the length and breadth of the country, held consultative meetings with all stakeholders and seven months later, produced a thick report, which contained 244 recommendations to address the guns issue. The report covered leadership and democracy, governance and service delivery, legislation, rules and operations, borders and trade, social and community development, reduction of weapons for safer communities and public awareness.

Seven years later, the government is yet to act on the recommendations, although there have been calls from the Opposition as well as concerned citizens in the country for the report to be implemented.
Today the situation has developed to a level where the use of guns is associated with the deteriorating law and order problem in PNG. And the State is unable to to exercise its authority and control because of various reasons.

Everyone agrees that illegal guns are today instruments of violence and death and its proliferation is getting out of control. And the situation has gone from being a major problem in urban areas to a much bigger problem in the rural areas.
All eyes are on the meeting in Mt Hagen. For Acting Police Commissioner Tony Wagambie and his men, they have an uphill battle on their hands. Whatever plan the police come up with, it will require the support of everyone to eradicate the gun culture in PNG .


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