Intelligence is pathway to snaring illegal weapons -Rohee
By Nigel Williams
December 4, 2006
Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee says intelligence gathering is the preferred method at the moment to snare illegal weapons rather than an amnesty or similar steps as criminals holding illicit firearms would not be swayed by these campaigns.
Rohee also warned that come next year the administration will introduce legislation which will make certain gun crimes non-bailable with stiffer penalties for the offenders.
Police for this year have already seized over 120 illegal firearms, among them a number of assault rifles and machines guns. Grenades were also seized in one of the most recent raids in the city.
In an interview with this newspaper on Thursday, Rohee agreed that in almost every crime committed these days the perpetrator brandishes a firearm and despite the police successes in reining in some of the illegal weapons there are still too many guns on the streets.
The minister however ruled out for now any gun amnesty programme, saying that one had to investigate whether similar programmes have been successful in other countries. "We don't want to re-invent the wheel rather we want to learn from the experiences of other countries," Rohee commented.
He argued that rising gun crime is not peculiar to Guyana, noting that this was a global problem. "But this does not mean that it is something we should not be concerned about locally and take the necessary actions to curb."
To this end, Rohee said that the administration is working on legislation dealing with law and order which could be introduced to the National Assembly by mid next year. Among the legislation is one to deal with stiffer penalties for gun criminals. The minister said they are also trying to boost the forensic capabilities of the police force so that there could be greater results in the area of ballistics testing. Over recent months the police have published the findings of ballistics tests done on weapons found on dead criminals. Most of these weapons were either fired during skirmishes in Buxton between gunmen and the joint services or in other gun battles and robberies.
Rohee had first made public government's intentions to toughen the laws to deal with unlicensed weapons during a community meeting at Canal No. 2 Polder two weeks ago.
A resident had asked Rohee why persons arrested for illegal possession of arms and ammunition were "getting off so lightly" and he responded that there was legislation coming to make possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition a non-bailable offence. He also told residents that amendments to laws where toy guns are used to commit robberies are being put in place.
"The position of the administration is clear we are committed to making non-bailable offences where persons are found with illegal weapons," the minister told Stabroek News during the interview.
He said any person found with illegal firearms especially those, that are not permitted by law to be used by civilians should not get bail in the courts.
Rohee observed that persons were getting off when found with AK-47 rifles and other automatic weapons. "From time to time these weapons have fallen into the hands of criminals if persons are found with them they should not be given bail."
Asked whether the administration knew who the gun-runners were and where the guns were coming from, Rohee said that clearly the gunmen are those involved in the criminal underworld: the drugs men, bandits, human traffickers and other criminals.
He said that some of these persons are known to the law enforcement agencies.
He added that there are people who are trafficking and smuggling weapons and to deal with that the authorities have to have good intelligence. He said that the police were depending on citizens to provide them with information. Rohee agreed that the country's borders could be further strengthened to prevent arms smuggling, but he insisted that there was no evidence to show that the bulk of the weapons on the streets today are coming from across the borders.
"A lot of the weapons being used by the criminals today were stolen from victims of robberies and other crimes", the minister said.
On whether there was any programme to get the guns off the streets, Rohee said that there is a combination of methodologies which had to be applied.
He said critical among them was street and neighbourhood intelligence.
He said that street intelligence could be acted upon immediately, noting that it was good street intelligence which led the police to the house in North Ruimveldt and Bel Air in the recent arms find. "So the key to it is not an amnesty or anything else, it is effective intelligence work to be able to pin where these weapons are, who have them, where they were located and in addition to it, effective operations to capture them in a timely manner."
The minister said that government has established that there are three categories of persons who will be given priority for firearm licences. These are Amerindians, farmers and businessmen. Rohee said however that this did not mean that everyone who falls into those categories will be granted a licence once they apply.
He said everyone had to go through a process, which has been tightened over the years. Concerns were raised two years ago when it was revealed that former Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj had instructed the approval of a firearm licence upgrade for accused 'hitman' Axel Williams whose name featured prominently during a death squad probe. A Presidential Commission of Inquiry later cleared the minister of any involvement. Rohee said that the Disciplined Forces Commission report also made some recommendations with regard to the granting of firearm licences. He said once these recommendations were adopted the process could be further strengthened.
The minister said since he has taken over the Home Affairs Ministry he has not found any data to show that licensed firearm holders have been using their weapons indiscriminately.
There have been allegations that some businessmen and other licensed firearm holders were into the business of renting their weapons to criminals.
Rohee said that the authority would deal condignly with anyone found to be engaging in this practice. "Any businessman who is found renting a weapon to criminals must be made to feel the full force of the law, what he is doing is handing a firearm to a person who is involved in crime which makes him an accomplice."
He said however that there has not been any hard evidence to prove that this was happening. When asked if he did not believe that some persons were actually involved in renting their weapons, Rohee said "Well if people rent passports and sell passports to facilitate backtrack (illegal migration) activities I have no reason to doubt that these things might be happening."