Civilian possession of illicit weapons remains a serious problem in Kosovo and the region, Saferworld said in a press conference in Pristina on Tuesday.
According to a new Saferworld report, around 350,000 illicit small arms and light weapons remain in private possession in households across the country. Kosovo is currently estimated to have a population of around 2 million people.
Saferworld Director Henry Smith told the press that the report, which is the fifth in a series exploring the prospects for the collection of small arms and light weapons in Kosovo, emphasised that there is “increased attention by ministries and governments on the issue, which is excellent news”.
“Every weapon that injures or harms an innocent is one too many,” he said.
According to the report, 74.2% of the 1,200 respondents felt that the local gun tradition drove men to possess illicit weapons.
Smith stressed that regional taboos such as: “a man is not a man unless he has a weapon”, need to be eliminated. This should be approached in various ways by different institutions and will be achieved through cooperation with civil society and the government, he said.
“Different people in different parts of the country will only trust certain agencies,” he added.
Driton Gashi – political advisor to Kosovo’s Internal Affairs minister – stressed that the possession of illegal small arms and weapons remains “a threat to individual humans instead of a threat to national security”.
He stated that family protection continues to be the main reason for keeping illicit small arms and weapons, but that the decision to retain these weapons leads to “conflicts over land” and other minor issues that encourages gun owners to solve their problems through violence.
However, since the end of the conflict in 1999, police reports confirm that there has been an increase in the number of weapons that have been confiscated.
“In 1999, we collected only 50 unlicensed arms. Since then, the yearly average of confiscated arms has been 1500,” said a member of the Kosovo Police, Besart Sheqiri.
The report also reveals significant skepticism towards the gun control program in the northern area surrounding Mitrovica, which has a large Serb minority.
In all, 15.5% of Mitrovica survey respondents said they believed that their neighbourhoods are unsafe, compared to a national average of 7.5%.
Mitrovica also has the highest number of heard gunshots in Kosovo, with 28.5% of respondents saying they had heard gun reports, compared to a national average of 16.5 %.
Gashi added that a new Law on Weapons has been finalised and is awaiting approval by the Kosovo Assembly sometime in September 2009. He said that this law will focus on civil arms registration and licensing, which he believes will “lower the number of unlicensed arms”.
The Saferworld studies have been supported financially by the governments of the United Kingdom and Germany.
Germany’s deputy ambassador to Kosovo, Eckart Blaurock, told the press conference that “the German government would like to further improve human safety in Kosovo and the region.”