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Poverty Fueling Illegal Arms Trade
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A crackdown was launched in April and is set to wrap up in September across ten provinces, including Guizhou, Qinghai, Sichuan, Hunan, Yunnan, Gansu, Guangdong and Fujian provinces as well as Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Chongqing Municipality. Ministry of Public Security figures that these 10 provinces account for 79.9 percent of reported cases of gun-related crime, 60.9 percent of possession of illegal guns and 59.5 percent of manufacturing illegal guns, making them the focus of the crackdown.

During the five-month operation, tremendous results are expected but the problem remains severe in some parts.

Gun "Made in Hualong"

Hualong County in Qinghai Province has become so infamous that a saying exists, saying that the farmers work in the field during the day and manufacture illegal guns at night.

Hualong is one of the flashpoints for the industry with 37 villages and five towns proven to have an underworld gun trafficking presence. Brazenly, the guns are even stamped with a "made in Hualong" brand.

Hualong, a poverty-stricken mountainous region, is cut off from the outside world by woeful transport facilities and the annual per capita income of its 240,000 villagers is below 1,000 yuan.

Since Hualong used to hold a weapons factory, villagers had knowledge in arms-making and used this to reap profit from the black market. Components are bought from other areas and assembled in the villages

On January 8, 2007, Ma Haibai and Ma Yisi were arrested in Hualong for the production and storage of a 64-pattern pistol, 433 gun components and 4 bullets. They received jail sentences of 13 years and 11 years respectively.

According to local police, illegal guns were originally intended for hunting, with shotguns and small-caliber pistols proving most popular at the time. However, criminals soon took hold of the industry, perfecting techniques and manufacturing more complicated weaponry such as 54-pattern and 64-pattern pistols.

The forgeries often fool experts as was discovered in September 2000, when a police raid in Xining City uncovered 1,103 spare gun parts and 150 semi-auto 56-pistols,when specialists struggled to distinguish the home-made weapons from real ones. 

A 64-pattern pistol can be obtained as low as 200 yuan, although they can fetch between 1,000 and 15,000 yuan in richer coastal areas. Such a windfall has proven enticing to local farmers toiling day in day out for several hundred yuan a year.

Comprehensive Management Needed

Criminal justice expert He Jiahong, a professor of law specializing in evidence law and investigation at Renmin University of China, said villagers struggling to shake off the yoke of poverty are turning to the illegal arms trade which blossoms due to a lack of local police.

Officials from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, and the State Council's Office of Poverty Alleviation and Reduction attended a conference held by the Ministry of Public Security on illegal firearms earlier this year. At the conference, management techniques for cracking down on offenders and helping villagers find alternate income methods were hammered out.

(China.org.cn by Wu Nanlan June 8, 2007)

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