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By Daniel Korimbao

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, June 16) – Guns will rule in the 2007 general elections because the Government has done little to address the growing problem of illegal firearms and violence associated with guns, the Opposition has warned.

"We all know how the gun culture had permeated and penetrated society, especially in certain parts of the country, yet the Government had done nothing to address this very serious problem," Opposition leader Peter O’Neill told The National this week. "We all know how firearms and violence were used to manipulate the elections in 2002, especially in the Highlands. We appear not to have learnt from it. Have we done anything to remove guns that we know are in the villages, in the hands of warlords, and so-called big men? The next general election is less than 12 months away and, I’m afraid, the situation will be worse than the last.".

The gun problem in Papua New Guinea was exposed during a National Guns Summit held in Goroka last year and spearheaded by Justice Minister Bire Kimisopa. At the summit, a number of recommendations were made to the National Guns Committee, including tough legislations for gun control and improve surveillance at the border where it is suspected firearms were being smuggled into the country and traded for money and drugs.

The recommendations and proposed legislations have not been brought to Parliament.

Mr O’Neill said it appears the guns summit was a waste of public funds.

"It was a high profile summit and so much was promised, but what has been done. The Government had not spelt out its plans to remove illegal guns in society. Look at the havoc guns are causing in society. Imagine what guns are going to do in the next elections. Why should anyone be allowed to claim mandate through the barrel of a gun?"

During the guns smmit, it was revealed that in Mr O’Neill’s Southern Highlands province, there were more than 2,450 factory made firearms being used by criminals, tribal warlords and mercenaries to wreck havoc.

A survey by Prof Philip Alpers of the University of Sydney found that nearly half these firearms were high-powered rifles, especially SLR and M16s, which came from the PNG Defence Force stocks.

In 2002, elections in six electorates in the province were declared as "failed" by the Electoral Commission because of violence and illegal practices.

The Australian government expressed concern during the summit last year that poor gun control in PNG would not only affect the country but also the security of the Pacific region.

The summit was told that guns were kept or promoted in the community by "leaders".

This category of "leaders" includes tribal chiefs, businessmen, politicians and people aspiring to become politicians.

June 16, 2006

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