Mon, 12 May 2003

Police urged to crack down on illegal weapons

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

The North Sumatra provincial legislature has demanded a crackdown on illegal weapons here following a series of armed robberies, which have claimed five lives over the past week.

There were at least five robberies last week in which the suspects shot their victims.

Chairman of the Golkar faction at the legislature, Marzuki, called Medan "Wild West cowboy town" due to the rampant use of weapons.

"The trend has sparked anxiety among the people as the criminals can apparently obtain guns quite easily, and do not hesitate to kill their victims," Marzuki said.

"To make matters worse, the police have completely failed to identify the suspects, not to mention chase them down."

Robbers killed a security guard and a bank driver at a Bank Lippo branch here on Tuesday. A third victim, another security guard, died on Thursday in the hospital, where he was being treated for a gunshot wound to the head.

On Wednesday an armed robbery took place at the home of a resident of Labuhan Batu regency near Medan, and two people were shot to death.

Police have jumped to the conclusion that the robbers are linked to the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) from nearby Aceh province. Tension has increased in the neighboring province as both GAM and the government are bracing for a war.

A number of suspected GAM members have also been arrested in Medan for their alleged involvement in a series of bombings in the city last month.

"It remains uncertain whether the police will investigate any of the armed robberies ... the police rarely manage to capture the suspects," Marzuki said.

Chairman of the United Development Party faction, Ali Jabbar Napitupulu, shared Marzuki's concerns and demanded that the police take more measures to control the crimes involving arms.

"This will be test case for the police chief to see whether he manages to restore security here," Ali warned, referring to Police Brig. Gen. Edy Sunarno.

Ali suggested that the police conduct an operation to crack down on illegal weapons and impose stricter requirements for people who apply for licenses to carry guns.

The police have registered at least 1,300 legal weapons for civilians across the province in the past 12 months, half of which were handguns. The owners include government officials, businesspeople and politicians.

Edy pledged that he would take the necessary gun-control measures in the province.

"We will take immediate action to control the distribution of weapons to prevent more armed robberies," he said.

Police data showed 107 crimes involving weapons between 2001 and 2002, but only 56 of them were solved.

The most recent case took place on Thursday when one police officer was shot in the back by an unidentified man on a motorcycle. The officer, Brig. Haris Nasution, was rushed to the hospital and was still in intensive care as of Saturday evening.