Timor's controversial gun amnesty ends

Timor's controversial gun amnesty ends

Timor's controversial gun amnesty ends

Updated 19 December 2011, 13:08 AEDT

East Timor's six-month gun amnesty has ended, but the controversery surrounding the program has not.

The police operation to collect illegal weapons from civilians began immediately after the president was shot by a gang of armed rebels in February.

Under the operation, citizens who handed in weapons of their own volition would not be prosecuted.

Interim Police Commander Afonso De Jesus says the task force assigned to the operation netted mostly antique and home made weapons - such as hunting tools and makeshift arrows known as rama ambons.

"We find also some explosives like hand grenade," he said.

But former interim prime minister and current Freitilin MP, Estanislau Da Silva, has criticsed the operation, saying it is futile to collect home made weapons.

"I think it is a bit pointless because traditional weapons they can hand in one today, and they can make two or three or four or five after tomorrow - those traditional weapons they are usually for hunting, so it's not going to make that much difference because it can be easily done at home".

Police weapons need to be recovered

Mr Estanislau Da Silva says the police should focus their attention on trying to recover the many weapons taken from police and military armories during the crisis in 2006, and follow up the process with prosecutions.

Meanwhile, parliament is due to resume sitting later this month, and one of the first items on the agenda is the government's proposed gun law.

Earlier this year when the draft law was tabled, several parliamentarians almost came to blows over the provision that would grant licenses for civilians to carry arms.

Mr Estanislau Da Silva says the idea is too upsetting for the people of East Timor to consider, after the country was torn apart by illegally armed civilian militias during 2006.

"We don't agree with it. We certainly agree we should have regulation on the use of arms for security forces," he said.

"This is a different thing. ...this law is to legalise the use of weapons by civilians and it is very dangerous - people are still traumatized".

Civilians could carry weapons

Current legislation developed by the UN transitional administration after independence in 1999 does allow for civilians to be granted licenses "in exceptional circumstances" and only if the licensed activity is in the "public interest".

A report by the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based independent research group, warns the new draft law could "lower the threshold" for those eligible to carry arms.

A government spokesman told the ABC the draft legislation is part of updating from the UN transitional law, and is designed to ensure that licenses are only issued to those who can justify the need to carry arms for specific duties.

For full interview see the Connect Asia website at http://radioaustralia.net.au/connectasia