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Haitian Police Burn Confiscated Weapons

May 30, 2003

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Haitian police set a ceremonial bonfire Thursday and destroyed more than 200 guns confiscated in a yearlong disarmament campaign.

The guns _ including 215 handguns and 18 rifles _ were hung on pegs on a pyramid-shaped wooden structure. Officers doused it with gasoline and set it afire with a torch.

``It’s a great day. It affirms the government’s will to end confrontation and violence as a way to resolve conflict,″ acting police chief Jean-Claude Jean-Baptiste said.

The disarmament campaign is intended to satisfy opposition demands for the government to ensure security before planned legislative elections this year. So far, though, opposition leaders have said they are not satisfied with government efforts, and no date has been set for the vote.

Critics said the ceremony fell short of proving a real commitment to confiscate illegal weapons.

``The government is putting on a show for the Organization of American States. Its power base is its armed partisans, and it won’t saw off the branch it’s sitting on,″ human rights advocate Jean-Claude Bajeux said.

Critics regularly accuse the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of using street thugs to harass opponents. The government denies it and has accused the opposition of plotting violent acts.

An OAS official said on condition of anonymity that the organization’s special mission in Haiti was not satisfied with information received about the arms confiscated in the campaign.

The OAS, which was invited to the ceremony, did not send representatives.

Police said they were burning about two-thirds of the weapons seized and that the rest would be kept for use by the authorities.

Haitians must hold permits to possess guns, and police pledged to continue the search illegal weapons.

The government and opposition have been at loggerheads over scheduling new elections since Aristide’s governing party swept disputed legislative elections in May 2000.

To persuade opposition parties and civil society groups to participate in an electoral council, the government has pledged to implement OAS resolutions that would guarantee secure and credible elections.

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