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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Feb 9) – More than 15,000 guns are in the hands of village warlords in the Southern Highlands province despite efforts by the security force personnel involved in the State of Emergency to remove them, the Integrated Coordinating and Planning Team (ICPT) has revealed.

The ICPT believes this is a serious problem and should be dealt with urgently.

Under an amnesty declared last year, guns were surrendered to be destroyed without those holding them being prosecuted.

But the ICPT team believes a great number of these weapons remain in the hands of villagers.

It is feared these weapons are being kept for use in the coming general elections, due in four months.

There was widespread violence involving the use of illegally obtained weapons during the 2002 election, which led to the Electoral Commission being forced to declared elections in six electorates of the province a failure. Supplementary elections were held a year later.

During a National Gun Summit in 2005, participants were told there were over 20,000 weapons, many of them military issues like M16 and AR15, in the hands of tribal warlords, supplied by politicians and businessmen.

A recommendation was sent to the National Government following this summit, for legislative changes to be made to make gun laws tougher. To date, nothing has been done at cabinet or Parliament level about this report, submitted by the National Guns Committee.

The Southern Highlands province also set up its own provincial guns committee to address the guns problem in their province, but nothing has been advanced since.

The ICPT team said guns were causing instability in the province and affecting effective delivery of essential Government services to the people.

It said its presence had contributed to gross maladministration and mismanagement of State assets and resources in the province.

They are determined to ensure over 70 percent of the guns are recovered, and are considering approaching the Government for another amnesty period before the election.

The ICPT team, consisting of three to five members from the police, Defence engineers and Southern Highlands human resource personnel will travel to the eastern, central and western parts of Southern Highlands starting today.

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