Subject: East Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao wants gun law change

East Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao wants gun law change


July 03, 2008 12:00am

EAST Timor's Prime Minister is supporting a new law that would allow civilians to own guns, less than five months after illegally armed rebel soldiers tried to kill him and the President.

The proposal has sparked heated scenes in Parliament, with MPs almost coming to blows over what some say is a dangerous development that could threaten the nation's fragile security.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao last week introduced the proposed gun law to Parliament for "urgent debate" - pushing back scheduled budgetary discussions.

Under Article 4 of the law, civilians would be allowed to own firearms. Currently, only police and military personnel can carry weapons.

The law, if passed, could have grave consequences for East Timor, where memories of February's attempted assassinations of Mr Gusmao and President Jose Ramos Horta are still fresh.

In 2006, East Timor was rocked by violence that involved illegally armed civilian militias. Dozens died in the unrest, and 100,000 people were forced from their homes.

Former prime minister Mari Alkatiri was forced to resign over the unrest, and former interior minister Rogerio Lobato was later convicted of illegally arming civilian hit squads to eliminate political opponents.

The United Nations, which heads a stabilisation force in the young nation, has expressed concern over the proposed gun law.

"The less weapons we have on the streets, the safer it is," said acting United Nations Police Commissioner Juan Carlos Arevalo.

State Secretary for Defence Julio Tomas Pinto defended the proposed law in Parliament on Monday.

He said many countries in the world allowed citizens to own guns.

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