Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
Ads By Google
Somalia: Creating a Gun-Safe Village in Puntland, Somalia

Ads By Google
"Thanks for taking photos in my shop as an example to tell others that we are living in danger," says Yasin Asyayr Gurase.

In his small store in Kalabyr, a village of about 1,500 people 100 kilometres south of Garowe in the Puntland State of Somalia, guns are stacked against shelves filled with shirts and shoes, and AK-47s rest against food products.

These weapons are not for sale. Rather, after a number of recent accidents in the village, they are being left in shops by owners wanting to keep them out of homes and away from children.

In one such tragic incident, a teenage boy shot and killed another while the pair were playing with their fathers' weapons. In another case, a child pulled the trigger on the gun his father was carrying and killed him.

Almost every family owns a gun in Kalabyr. Though they are not needed in the village itself, which is generally peaceful, herding animals in the nearby countryside can be a perilous activity.

The many herdsmen in this agriculturally dependent community will not venture outside the village without protection against rival clans and wild animals such as hyenas.

Kalabyr's violent past means weapons are readily available, left over from the many armed conflicts between various militia groups in the area over the last 25 years. Prior to then, the village was affected by both the 1977-78 Ethiopia-Somalia war and 1982 the Ethiopian-Somali Border War.

Keeping the guns unguarded in shops is not a sustainable solution: "I am very worried about keeping guns in my store because they are dangerous," says Yasin Asyayr Gurase, pictured at the top of this page.

"I keep them here only because there is nowhere else to store them. People can't have them in their houses. I think customers may fear shopping here, especially women and children."

To address the problem, MAG is currently building an armoury for the community and the police to safely store their weapons. It will be located next to the police station at one of the entrances to the village.

"We will have one safe and secure place for the villagers' weapons, as well as a safe place for ours," explains police chief Abdhul Gardir Elmi Mahmud.

"We will make this a gun-free village. If anyone wants to stay in the village they will need to hand in their weapon first. This will help us and keep us safe. People have been very worried so this is a very good thing."

MAG will also provide training to ensure the weapons are stored safely.

"We are happy you are building the store," says local resident Sahra Said Ahmed. "We will be able to keep the weapons safely. After the accidents, we didn't know what to do. And after the safety messages [given by MAG] we were very concerned so we keep the guns in the shops."

She adds, "This is not the solution though. They are still dangerous and they are bad for business."

Mohamed Abdi, who also lives in Kalabyr, says, "The store for the guns will help us a lot. People here are nomadic. When the rains come here many people will come to the village. They all have guns and sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes people argue.

So it is good to lock the guns up when they are in the village.

"I am the son of a British soldier. I am 60 years old and have 11 children. Please tell your government that, and tell them thank you for helping us now."

MAG's Community Liaison team in the area is also providing Mine Risk Education to guard against the potential threat that residents of Kalabyr may still face with unexploded ordnance and landmines.

UXO and mines are rarely found these days, but there is always the possibility of people finding explosive items as they herd their animals in remote areas.

For more information on MAG's work in Somalia and around the world please go to http://www.maginternational.org/.

- Thanks to all the public, institutional and government donors to MAG's operations in Somalia, including: Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office; US Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. Without this support, MAG's lifesaving work in the country could not be carried out.

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Click here