Jakarta/Brussels - The Indonesian government could reduce the circulation of illegal firearms by improving procedures for guarding and monitoring police and military armouries, conducting regular audits of gun importers and enforcing controls over the “airsoft” industry.
Illicit arms in Indonesia, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines four sources of illegal guns in Indonesia: theft or illegal purchase from the security forces, leftover stockpiles in conflict areas, manufacture by local gunsmiths and smuggling. The issue has come to public attention after a rash of high-profile robberies and the discovery in February that weapons used in a terrorist training camp came from old police stocks.
“The problem should be manageable because Indonesia has one of the lowest rates of civilian gun ownership in the world”, says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group’s Senior Adviser. “The problem is that corruption undermines what on paper is a tight system of regulation”.
There are several major gaps in the system of gun control now in place. While civilians were not supposed to own weapons for self-defence after 2005, enforcement of the new policy was decidedly lax and online sales of firearms continue. Procedures for storage of guns by military and police seem stringent but armouries in many areas are neither as well-guarded or inventoried as they should be, as evidenced by the trial that began last week of two police officers suspected of selling 28 guns to jihadis from a warehouse for outdated weapons. A homemade gun industry continues to produce illegal pistols that fire real bullets. While customs inspections have improved in recent years, smuggling of small quantities of weapons from abroad remains a problem, with some contractors operating in the gray area between legal imports and illegal sales.
One area that needs more attention is the regulation of the hugely popular “airsoft” guns that replicate trademark models of pistols and assault rifles but fire plastic pellets. Initially considered toys like paintball guns, they were included in 2004 regulations on civilian gun ownership after they began to be used in the commission of crimes. There is no enforcement, however, and stores in Jakarta sell them over the counter without permits. Terrorists are attracted to airsoft guns because they can hone their military skills on them, and some dealers advertise in Indonesian jihadi magazines and websites.
The briefing looks at smuggling routes from Thailand used in the past by the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) and from Mindanao used by Jemaah Islamiyah, KOMPAK and other extremist groups. While GAM is no longer in the gun-buying business, the routes and contacts are important to understand because they can be used by others, including drug dealers and jihadi groups.
Indonesia is in much better shape than most of its neighbours with respect to illegal guns. “Unlike Thailand or the Philippines, Indonesia has no ‘gun culture’, and the scale of the problem remains relatively small”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “Addressing it has taken on a new urgency, however, as extremist groups, worried about Muslim casualties in bombings, have begun to discuss targeted killings as a preferred method of attack”.