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French St. Martin Préfecture trusting weapons amnesty will reduce violence


MARIGOT–Préfet Philippe Chopin has launched a weapons amnesty that is in effect from now until November 17. A campaign, as briefly mentioned a month ago, that authorities hope will reduce the level of violence by making illegal weapons harder to come by.

The campaign is being conducted by the Préfet in conjunction with Prosecutor Flavien Noailles and the Gendarmerie in the wake of the Fish Day shooting tragedy in which one person was killed and nine others injured.

The amnesty will be supported by flyer distribution around the French side and discussions on the radio stations.

The population has the opportunity to turn in illegal firearms and weapons to the Gendarmerie with the incentive of an assurance they will not be pursued by the Gendarmerie and justice system. There is, however, a requirement to complete a form stating one’s name and other details.

The English language flyer states for example “the prosecution agrees not to sue persons in possession of illegal weapons who consent to surrendering them to the Gendarmerie.”

Weapons can be handed in at the Gendarmerie stations in Concordia and French Quarter during regular hours, but not at the La Savane headquarters.

It was noted in the press conference a similar campaign in Guadeloupe from February 2 to March 31, saw 89 firearms turned in and 459 rounds of ammunition.

Préfet Chopin noted of the six homicides on the French side so far this year four were caused by firearms and in eight out of 11 attempted homicides firearms were used.

“It’s imperative to stop this spiral of violence,” he said. Prosecutor Noailles added: “St. Martiners are not dangerous, it is the weapons that are dangerous.”

A review of the results of the amnesty will be done in December, Noailles stated.

Asked if a joint action with the Dutch side had been considered, he said at this time no because the initiative is a national one, but the Dutch side could be included in the future.

This first-time campaign in St. Martin is being conducted in two phases; first the amnesty until November 17, then the repression phase. Controls will be conducted and persons possessing illegal weapons will answer to the justice system. The penalty for possession of an illegal weapon is five years in prison and a 75,000 euro fine. This year 34 procedures were carried out for weapons possession, the majority being firearms of small calibre.

Commandant Paul Betaille said of the average 90 hold-up incidents a year, 2013 has so far seen 56 incidents recorded and the year is not yet finished. Betaille also noted burglaries and break-ins to businesses continue to be of major concern to the Gendarmerie with 200 committed this year alone; 64 per cent of burglaries occur on residential premises and 28 per cent on business premises.

The question of security in the territory will certainly be addressed in meetings with Interior Minister Manuel Valls when he visits St. Martin on October 16.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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