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Gun Culture The Order Of The Day!

By Camelia Nathaniel

The number of crimes committed with the use of weapons has increased across the country in the recent past, and there have been many instances where persons had been shot at, with these illegal weapons, sometimes over trivial, personal disputes. Investigations are underway with special focus in the Western Province, and the police have been instructed to seize all illegal firearms in the possession of persons who do not have the license to possess the same.

There have been numerous speculation and indications that, with the conclusion of the war five years ago, most of the weapons in the possession of underworld gangs had been siphoned out by security forces personnel and army deserters. But according to the military, these soldiers had not been issued with the weapons that they freely carry around as speculated by the general public. According to the security forces, weapons are only issued while officers are on duty and once their shift ends, they have to hand over the weapons to the relevant authorities in their respective camps.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader regarding the procedures followed by the army in weapons control, Military spokesman, Brig. Ruwan Wanigasooriya said, there have been many allegations that army deserters are responsible for the weapons in the possession of the underworld. “However, deserters most often run away when they go on leave, and they do not have any weapons in their possession when they go home. Further, they are only given weapons while on duty and they are not in a position to vacate their posts (while on duty) as they are monitored on a regular basis by the supervising officer. This is an allegation based on ignorance by those who do not understand the military procedure. However, if a person tries to escape with a weapon, which has happened on a few occasions, we have always managed to track him down and recover the weapons in his possession.

The weapons have to be returned to the armoury every day, and no weapon can go missing without its loss being detected,” he said.

However, the worrying factor is that most of these firearms are in fact in the possession of supporters of certain powerful and influential politicians.

The situation has, as such, deteriorated that even under the slightest provocation, people do not hesitate to use a weapon, which invariably causes grievous harm to the person who is fired at.

In the latest incident to be reported, the JVP had charged that the deputy chairman of the Badalkumbura Pradeshiya Sabha and his supporters had attacked a group of JVP supporters in the same area while they were decorating the stage prior to a public rally. The JVP also stated that while the police had been called to the scene, even the police officers were helpless as those who had opened fire at the JVP supporters and injuring several of them in the process, were politicians who are currently in power.

Meanwhile, in a spate of other incidents reported by the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), opposition supporters had been intimidated by gunmen in Bibile, while 13 UNP, four JVP and one DP office had also been destroyed. According to Keerthi Tennakoon of CaFFE, opposition candidates, supporters and the general public in the Moneragala district now fear for their lives as armed groups had attacked 18 opposition election offices during 23 – 24 August.

Sources said that this was in fact the situation that had prevailed in the Bibile police area as armed groups had carried out a series of attacks for over six hours, commencing at dawn on 24 August. CaFFE observers report that these groups acted with impunity and no action had been taken to arrest them.

Further, during police raids to seize unlicensed weapons, Sabaragamuwa Provincial Counciller and member of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance, Imtiaz Cader Mohamed, was arrested on charges of possession of illegal firearms.

Similarly, there had been other incidents in the recent past such as the shooting of Kelaniya PS member, Hasitha Madawala, the killing of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, the alleged involvement of a Pradeshiya Sabha chairman in Tangalle in the murder of a tourist, et al. However, those behind these killings, except in the case of one incident, are still at large, enjoying their freedom due to the political clout they wield.

 

Brig. Ruwan Wanigasooriya – Military Spokesman and Director Media, Ministry of Defence

The army always maintains a proper inventory of weapons and ammunition. There are sufficient systems in place, and measures adopted to control the issuance and the return of weapons, as well as periodic audits and the checking of weapons and ledgers. Also, there is a system where the nominated duty officer regularly checks the armoury every morning, and he is also tasked with the checking of the same at night. He also physically checks every weapon as well as the ammunition, and all the other items including the cleaning rods. Finally, he seals the armoury and signs off. The following morning, before opening the armoury, the same officer has to check if the seals he had put the previous night are intact, and only then he opens the armoury and hands over the keys to the Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) in charge of the armoury who oversees the same during the day, and who thereafter issues the weapons. Even the issuing of weapons is done systematically where weapons are handed over according to the camp’s part one order (which is a list of the personnel on duty who have been designated to carry weapons). This is how the system had operated prior to the 1980’s.

During the conflict, in view of the requirement in the field in areas that had been categorized as conflict zones, weapons were issued to people who were deployed in such places. Only when they go on leave or leave the camp for non operational duties that the weapons issued are taken back and placed under lock and key. The weapons and ammunition are issued in three stages called the first line scale, second line scale and third line scale. The first line scale is the ammunition a person or unit holds at any given time, the second is the ammunition that is ready to be issued when the first line scale is used and needs to be replenished, and is the ammunition is held at the brigade level. Third line scale is the ammunition held at the Security Forces Headquarters level which is to replenish the second line scale. Hence, the system of replenishment was a very streamlined process based on quarterly and annual audits.

Issue of weapons streamlined

After the end of operations in 2009, we had to review the issue of weapons and ammunition because the terrorist threat was not there anymore. We withdrew all the heavy weapons from the fields, greased them and then stored them. Even thereafter, the weapons are periodically checked. But a small number of these heavy weapons were kept at formation levels for training purposes as well. Other arms such as grenades and explosives were also withdrawn as they were not required anymore. Only the personal weapons were allowed to be retained at unit lines – T56 in the case of soldiers and pistols in the case of officers.  In view of the impending situation in 2011, fresh instructions were issued covering all aspects of weapons, ammunition and explosives. In this process, we have very clearly identified places and institutions that are entitled to possess arms. The issue of weapons and ammunition are controlled, and go through a streamlined process of approval, and it is not something that is done arbitrarily. Moreover, weapons are only issued to those on duty and they have to be returned after the period of duty is over. Further, all weapons are serialized and every part of a weapon has a serial number, and this too is checked periodically to ensure that not even a part of a weapon is changed or replaced.

Even the blank ammunition used for training, at funerals or for any other purpose has to be accounted for. In such cases, the empty cases have to be returned and a tally is done to ascertain that everything is accounted for. However, there are still a large number of weapons in locations we do not know that could have been hidden by the LTTE. In fact, we still find weapons almost every day. Some are still in working condition while some are unusable. So there maybe people who know where these weapons are hidden, and may access the same, and that is why we still continue to conduct surveillance. However, in the case of the armed forces, we have a stringent method of handling arms and ammunition in order to prevent them from getting into the hands of underworld elements.

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SSP Ajith Rohana – Police Spokesman

During the war, so many illegal weapons were brought into the country by the LTTE, sometimes in shiploads. Apart from those, certain other militia groups also brought these weapons. After the conclusion of the war, a substantial portion of the weapons had made their way to other parts of the country, and thereby into the hands of underworld gangs and other mobs.

Prior to the war, there were no automatic weapons in circulation but after the end of the war, automatic weapons, especially the T56 and 84S, are in the possession of the underworld gangs and thugs.  Hence, we need to conduct continuous operations, especially in the Western Province in order to eradicate this menace. However, this cannot be done overnight, and requires time and effort. We have deployed around 80 officers to conduct a systematic and comprehensive investigation so as to gather information regarding these gangs and thugs who may be holding on to the weapons, illegally.

We are also probing the aspect of weapons that had been issued to politicians and are being misused by certain parties. Weapons are issued to politicians with the permission and approval of the relevant authorities. But sometimes the weapons issued to politicians could be given to a third party, and could be abused. Therefore, we are probing this factor as well. Senior politicians are provided security by either the police or the tri forces; hence it is not an issue. However, the problem lies with provincial level politicians as they have been issued weapons and in several incidents, these weapons have been misused by third parties.

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Tilvin Silva – General Secretary  JVP

In most instances we have seen that weapons are being used by those who are affiliated to the government. These persons have little or no respect for the law and due to their connections with powerful politicians, the police too do not take any action and therefore they get away even with murder.

This was very evident in the recent incident during a rally by Uva Provincial Council candidate, Anura Widanagamage, on 6 August. He had armed guards and defender vehicles at his rally which he is not entitled to. In fact, there were even police officers on motorcycles leading the rally. How can he have such privileges? It is obviously because this candidate has the backing of other powerful politicians.

The gun culture in the country has increased mainly due to these offenders being shielded by those in power. In fact, even the police are helpless and have to stand by and just watch, or even assist them simply due to their political affiliations. Today there is no law and order in the country, and thugs and underworld elements are ruling the roost because they are provided protection by politicians who in turn make use of them to carry out illegal activities. Although the police are being instructed to apprehend those who are carrying or are in possession of illegal weapons, the question I wish to pose is, can the police carry out their duty impartially? The obvious answer is ‘no’ because if they do, the officers involved will be transferred to a remote area, and that would be the end of their career.

Another issue is that in most instances (as we have seen in the past), armed guards are seen protecting, and weapons issued to politicians are in the possession of their family members. On many occasions we have seen bodyguards of ministers being made use of by their sons, and they, for trivial reasons, had resorted to using the weapons issued to the politicians. However, despite all the evidence and facts staring the law enforcement authorities in the face, what do they do? They cannot even carry out their duties as one would expect them to, due to the involvement of powerful politicians. They simply cannot take any action against them because the perpetrators of such crimes are protected by powerful persons. This is a very grave situation that the country is facing, and unless something is done to address the situation, Sri Lanka will be a dangerous place to live in.

 

 

 

3 Comments for “Gun Culture The Order Of The Day!”

  1. VOX. POPULI

    If politicians are elected by the people, why the heck do they need to protect
    themselves from the people, and that too with guns.
    Often they have Police bodyguards too.

  2. gamarala

    If the army maintains strict gun control,where did all guns used in crimes come from?
    In the Bharatha Luxman murder,though dozens of shots were fired,police produced only one gun in courts,after one month and wanted ‘permission’ to fingerprint it.
    This was the biggest travesty of justice to coverup illegal gun ownership.

  3. Yasin

    It is reported that all sorts of modern weaponry are in the hands of the underworld
    as well as with political groups, especially the government politicians which is displayed by them or their goons from time to time. These kinds of weaponry are also with our forces and according them it is all accounted for. If that is so where did these weapons come from and even when it is spotted in the wrong hands has the police or any other authority challenged these gun toting thugs as to where they got these weapons?. Nowadays crime is an everyday event with the loss of life and property. How safe is everyday life in Sri Lanka. 90% of the masses are unprotected from crime due to extreme corruption at all levels in the
    government and anything else under their roof.

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