ASSAULT WEAPONS SEIZED AT PORT MORESBY AIRPORT

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Passenger arrives from the Philippines with weapons in luggage

By Barnabas Orere Pondros

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Oct. 28, 2009) - Four high-powered Colt assault rifles, designed for military use, and a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol were seized by Customs officers from a passenger arriving from the Philippines on Sunday morning at Jackson International Airport.

Two assault rifle parts were also found in the man’s luggage.

The man (named) claimed he was transporting the weapons for a licensed arms dealer, but Customs officers say the man is no longer employed by the firm.

"It is very unlikely that the man brought them in legally, because in such imports, the firms concerned always ensure proper paperwork is in place prior to import," Customs Commissioner Gary Juffa said.

The man had the weapons in his checked-in luggage when PX 011 from Manila arrived at Jackson Airport at 5am on Sunday.

Customs officers checked the man’s luggage and perused documents he produced but found that he did not have valid import permits and no declaration that he had firearms in his luggage.

After confirming that the required documents were not in order, Customs officers declared the weapons as restricted imports and seized them.

Valid import permits must be endorsed either by the Police Commissioner or Customs Commissioner – but this was not the case. Mr Juffa confirmed that the permit "is a necessary requirement for the import of firearms".

The man faces a fine of between PGK5,000 [US$2,000] and PGK50,000 [UA$19,000] for importing restricted items under the Customs Act.

Police are likely to conduct separate investigations to identify the intended destination or recipient of the "high powered" package and may lay separate charges, including possession of illegal firearms.

Police Commissioner Gari Baki told The National yesterday that he was not aware of the bust and was keen to know the details.

"After I am briefed, I will disclose what measures police will apply," he said.

The National believed the man was part of the PNG shooting team that went to Manila for a competition a few weeks ago but the weapons brought back were not part of his outbound cargo.

Air Niugini confirmed late last night it was aware that the PNG shooting team went to Manila few weeks ago, but was not aware of the seizure of the weapons.

Chief executive officer Wasantha Kumarasiri said the Air Niugini Manila office had confirmed that the flight had PNG shooting team members on board, the guns were declared and loaded into the cargo compartment and that the captain had been notified.

He said airport authorities routinely conduct baggage screening, and this was the case both in Port Moresby and Manila airports.

"If any declared weapon is available, there are procedures to deal with such cases.

"Any undeclared weapon is considered as a weapon outside this policy and if we find such incidents, we refer them to relevant authorities," Mr. Kumarasiri said.

A Customs officer, who requested anonymity, said the seizure raised serious concerns on why Air Niugini staff at Manila and law enforcement agencies had let the man slip past, and board the aircraft.

"Obviously, the weapons are not for domestic use and not for shooting competitions; they are high-powered weapons to be used for war and violent crimes," the officer said.

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