San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guatemala Offers Gifts for Arms

GUATEMALA CITY (AFP) – GuatemalanPresident Oscar Berger this week officiallykicked off a national disarmamentcampaign that aims to collect illegal firearmsin an effort to reduce violent crime, which hasclaimed almost 2,000 lives so far this year.The collection/amnesty program offersincentives for people who turn in multipleillegal weapons, including items such asbicycles, sewing machines, bags of cementand zinc sheeting for construction.“With the launching of this program weare sending a message to the nation thatunited we can all move forward and stopthese high indicators of violence that areaffecting us,” said Berger, who was accompaniedat the event by government leaders,school children and Maya icon RigobertaMenchú, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.THE week before launching “TheNational Disarmament Program,” Bergerlamented in a local press interview that hisgovernment has had a difficult time curbingthe recent wave of violence (TT, July 9).The disarmament program also mayinclude the destruction of the 28,000decommissioned guns already in the government’spossession, and could contemplatea bill to stiffen sanctions against thosewho carry un-licensed arms, according togovernment sources.In Guatemala, 250,000 guns of variouscalibers registered with the government arein citizens’ hands, along with an estimated1.8 million unregistered weapons, accordingto Minister of the Interior Arturo Soto.Soto said at least 1,950 have died inGuatemala this year because of violentcrimes, including 779 in the capital city.Concluding the ceremony, dozens ofGuatemalan children turned in toy guns inexchange for roses in a symbolic act callingfor a new culture of peace.

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