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YEMEN: Fresh attempt to close outlets selling weapons

SANAA, 18 June 2008 (IRIN) - The Yemeni authorities on 17 June moved to close arms markets and shops and arrest arms dealers throughout the country. A similar campaign in 2007 targeted shops selling weapons in the cities, but not in rural areas.

Ahmed Hayel, head of the Ministry of Interior's Information Centre, told IRIN the security authorities were closing arms shops and stopping dealers’ activities for security reasons." This is an emergency security measure in the national interest," he said.

The campaign is taking place as clashes continue between government forces and followers of Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, leader of a rebel Shia group in the northern governorate of Saada. The clashes have led to hundreds of deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people since 2004.

Security forces boosted patrols around Sanaa city after al-Houthi rebels clashed with government troops in Bani Hushaish, a district to the northwest of the city. Several checkpoints were set up around the city to prevent rebels entering it.

However, on 17 June the authorities said they had subjugated the rebels in Bani Hushaish and Saada after blockading and destroying a number of strongholds.

Hayel said the rebels sourced weapons from arms markets, adding: "Some arms are smuggled to pro-al-Houthi rebels." The authorities in Sanaa had last week seized a vehicle with arms and ammunition destined for the rebels in Saada Governorate, he said.

Reduced crime rate

The Yemeni government in April 2007 closed all arms markets and shops selling weapons. The bearing of arms in cities was banned but in villages people continued to carry arms and despite the closure of arms markets there were still outlets selling weapons.

Hayel said the 2007 decision had led to an 80 percent reduction in the number of people carrying arms in the cities, and to a 39 percent drop in the crime rate. "The security authorities have seized 136,000 small arms [guns and pistols] since then," he said. At present, an average of 2,000-3,000 weapons are seized each month.

Hayel noted that there was a problem keeping arms markets closed as powerful economic interests were threatened: "Closing the shops requires a lot of funds with which to provide compensation [to arms dealers]," he said. The government pays compensation to encourage dealers to stop selling weapons and to compensate for their loss of income.

It is estimated by security sources that there are 40-50 million arms in Yemen, which has a population of 21 million. There are about 18 arms markets and 300 small gun shops. The biggest arms market, Jahana, is in Sanaa Governorate.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Economy


Copyright © IRIN 2008
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