Local News Reports

Scramble for Weapons as Yemen Unrest Grinds On

Yemen’s current events have rendered the weapons sold widely in the country’s black markets unusually expensive.

But at the same time, the crisis which Yemen is undergoing has contributed to the dissemination of arms with in large quantities, including heavy weapons and tanks in as a result of the looting of some military and security  camps by tribal armed men in Al-Jawf, Marib, Abyan and Shabwa provinces.

According to tribal sources, armed tribesmen looted thousands weapons when military facilities suffered incursions by groups opposing the regime in recent weeks.

The phenomenon has only added to the high availability of lethal weapons in Yemen.

According to some arms dealers, there are four main illegal markets of guns, in al-Jawf governorate, east of Sana’a, which sell various kinds of ammunition, pistols and Kalashnikov weapons, machine guns, anti-aircraft ordnance, shoulder-launched missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles, and armored vehicles.

Rush to Buy Weapons

Many Yemenis have watched the developments with concern, a fact which is clearly reflected in the rush to buy weapons.

Markets were reportedly stagnant in recent years, but in the last few months, political events prompted citizens to buy more arms and ammunition from the arms markets in many cities of Yemen, leading to a spike in prices.

According to arms dealers Yemeni markets, the scramble was inspired by the popular uprising, as many customers fear the situation could turn into a scenario resembling Libya’s.

Juma’an, a famous arm dealer in Amran said, “there is unprecedented demand for purchasing personal arms and light arms, like Kalashnikovs, pistols, and ammunition, especially after the launch of the so-called youth revolution of February 3rd of this year.”

He also indicated that the Kalashnikov price reached to 300 thousand (YER), up from the usual price of 150,000 (YER), while the Russian version of the gun has climbed from 100,000 (YER) to 200 thousand YER.  The cost of a singly Kalashnikov bullet reached to 230 from 115 YER.

President Saleh implicitly called Yemeni citizens to protect themselves with arms in the exceptional meeting of parliament held on 2nd February, a day prior to the beginning of the popular uprising.

According to Mohammed Hamid, a follower of a prominent Yemeni sheikh, this is tantamount to a green light, and pointed out that the escalation of violent acts between pro- and anti-regime forces can’t be resolved except through armed confrontation, which had inevitably led citizens to turn to the arms market.

Heavy Weapons in the Hands of Sheikhs

Tribal sources have reported that a number of pro- and anti-regime sheikhs have purchased a large quantity of weapons from the arms markets during the last few weeks.

Also, sources from the Hashid tribe said that forces affiliated to republican guards in Harf Sufyan confiscated four vehicles belonging to Sheikh Hussein Al-Ahmar, who announced his defection to the side of the young people in the end of February.

Sources also said that after he joined the revolution, he returned to the Hashid region from which he hails and readied a large amount of weapons and vehicles that he owns, which had previously been in storage.

Government’s Efforts in Vain

Developing new arms markets and supplying these markets with large quantities of weapons in addition to the heavy weapons would mean serious trouble to the Yemeni government, after its efforts in recent years to curtail the arms trade.

Authorities have allocated billions of riyals to buy weapons from both markets and citizens, and it has arrested 25 people from among the arms dealers and seized 246 thousand pieces of unauthorized weapons, from every single governorates in the country during the last year 2010.

The effort has been led by the ministry of interior since 2007, and has resulted in the closing of the most high-profile markets and shops selling weapons.

Before this time, there were thought to be up to 18 markets for arms in all governorates of the Republic and 300 smaller shops for selling arms ammunition and explosives across the country.

The ministry also took serious steps including activating a plan to combat arms trading, as the Ministry of Interior decided to cancel all permits for weapons that do not bear signature of the Minister of the Interior.

Also, tightened security controls on arms dealers and their black markets have been put in place. They also expanded their effort to include coasts, which are used by smugglers to bring illegal weapons onto Yemeni territory.

Process continued despite government efforts

Last month, an arms shipment hidden inside a furniture container coming from Turkey heading to Yemen was seized while in transit in Dubai last month.

The weapons were allegedly destined for arms markets in Yemen, but Emirates authorities confiscated the lode.

The shipment consisted of 16 thousand smuggled guns, and security sources confirmed the arrest of the members behind the smuggling operation, six of whom were Arabs living in the UAE.  Emirates authorities added that the shipment was bound specifically to Sa’ada.

Each Yemeni house contains arms, and the practice of gun ownership is also part of Yemeni tribal custom.  A majority of citizens considers them one of most important necessities of life in Yemen, and despite the recent campaign, anyone can get weapons from arms markets in the five major governorates, without need for a license or official documents.

These arms markets are based in al-Bayda, Shabwa, Marib , Dhamar , Amran, Sana’a, and Sa’ada.

Unofficial estimates claim that around 50 to 60 million weapons are present in Yemen, which makes it the biggest concentration of small arms  in the Middle East, and the second country in the world after the United States of America.