By Drazen Remikovic
The problem of illegal weapons remaining from 1990s conflict is still significant in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the entire region, while the countries of the western Balkans are trying to persuade citizens to surrender illegal weapons they possess.
A new law on amnesty for possession of illegal weapons that the Republika Sprksa assembly adopted will be in force starting Sunday (September 1st) and citizens will be able to pass their illegal weapons to authorities without any criminal responsibility.
On Monday (August 26th) RS police of this entity started a campaign called “For life without guns” that will last until the end of the year.
“We are aware that the issue of possessing explosives and weapons is still significant, and the aim of such campaign is to improve public awareness about the dangers of firearms misuse, reduce the number of illegal guns in the hands of citizens, reduce the number of incidents of illegal firearms or weapons by children and thus to improve the general safety in Republika Srpska,” Radislav Jovicic, RS minister of internal affairs, told SETimes. “Therefore I call all the citizens who have any kind of weapon to pass it in the nearest police station.”
The latest incident with illegal weapons happened in the town of Kozarska Dubica, north BiH, when young man threw a bomb in a local cafe bar on August 24th and injured 11 people. He was arrested immediately after the attack and all the injured were treated.
It is estimated that 20 percent of BiH’s population has about 750,000 unregistered weapons. Since the BiH conflict ended in 1995, illegal weapons have been a factor in more than 10,000 deaths – more than six times the number of casualties from landmines, which receive much more public attention.
“We constantly need to appeal to civic awareness that the weapon is not necessary,” Denis Hadzovic, director of the Center for Security Studies in Sarajevo, told SETimes. “Especially things like Kalashnikovs, automatic rifles, dynamite, scorpions and everything that is not legally permitted.”
Hadzovic also said, “There are various types of calls to that citizens are invited to hand in their weapons. Some countries in Europe after the World War II performed the purchasing of illegal weapons. Our centre organised a contest with some smaller awards a few years ago for the people who returned the weapons. The situation with illegal weapon is similar in the region and perhaps we could think about some regional initiative or action for the return of weapons.”
A 2012 report by the Kosovo Forum for Security said 17,142 weapons were confiscated in Kosovo between 2000 and 2011. According to a 2011 UN Development Programme report, there are more than 330,000 illegal weapons in Kosovo.
It is estimated that about 600,000 illegal firearms are owned by the citizens in Croatia, while Serbian citizens own about 950,000 illegally-held weapons.
There are those citizens who are willing to surrender their guns.
“I will pass my automatic rifle but only if I get strong guarantees from the police that they will not press charges against me if I do that. Once I heard that some man handed over his gun like that and eventually he had to pay fine for that,” Djoko Nikezic, 55, of Visegrad in BiH said.
Smaller weapons, such as pistols, revolvers, shotguns, hunting carbines, small bore rifles and air rifles are legal with a permit. The price to register weapons typically ranges from 20 euros to 200 euros per year.
Citizens can obtain permits on the grounds of personal safety, hunting and sports, but must be adults, not tried in court and not subject to criminal proceedings.