Deadly trade in guns is plied openly on streets

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am


Black market explosives and pistols are advertised openly in the remote, mountainous Yunnan county where a mysterious suicide bomber killed three people and injured 16 last week, the South China Morning Post can reveal.

Most advertisers claim they can arrange delivery by car within an hour in central Kunming, the provincial capital, with guns handed over outside supermarkets and post offices.

Some advertisers also said they had delivery networks in remote counties. 'We have people in Qiaojia, Dongchuang and Huize, but the headquarters is in Kunming,' one dealer said.

'If you do not wish to meet, you can deal with us anonymously.'

Small handwritten adverts can be seen everywhere on the streets of Qiaojia, an area known for its mining and quarrying that sits beside the Jinsha (Yangtze) River, on the border with Sichuan province.

The deadly explosion rocked the county centre, the town of Baihetan, last Thursday, but controversy surrounds the identity of the bomber.

The ownership and sale of guns, except those used for hunting and sports, is strictly prohibited on the mainland.

The advertisements claim that handmade firearms and explosives smuggled from Vietnam can be provided after the purchaser makes a small deposit at a bank.

They say the prices are affordable and the goods can be delivered or picked up anonymously after a cash payment. Advertisements for guns and bombs can be spotted in alleys or toilets in some mainland cities, but are seldom posted so openly as the ones in Qiaojia.

Long-distance drivers working in the area say they are more prevalent in Qiaojia than in other rural areas in Yunnan.

Although some of the advertisements are likely to be scams, local people said some were real.

'I tried calling up these advertisements last year as I was considering buying a gun to protect myself,' said one driver who later abandoned the idea. 'Some are definitely real.'

Police in Qiaojia declined to comment. But to highlight the scale of the problem, Yunnan police launched a massive explosives and weapons eradication campaign in February, offering rewards of up to 1,000 yuan (HK$1,230) for clues that led to the seizure of guns and explosives.

More than 220 people have been detained and 2,300 weapons confiscated since the campaign started.

Informants providing clues that help solve major crimes committed with weapons are eligible for rewards of up to 20,000 yuan.

Dealers contacted by the South China Morning Post said that 240 grams of military explosive could cost 600 yuan, but 24kg of black powder explosives, used for mining and quarrying, could be bought for 500 yuan. Genuine Chinese Type 54 pistols cost from 3,800 to 4,500 yuan, while copies cost 1,600 yuan. Pistols usually come with 50 free bullets.

One purported dealer said his adverts were all over Qiaojia because of strong demand for explosives from those engaged in quarrying and the construction of a nearby dam.

However, that fails to explain the widespread advertisements for guns. One advertiser contacted by the Post said his 'genuine Chinese Type 54 pistols' were all new.

'Our guns are clean [not having been used in crimes],' he said by phone. 'You can smell the piece and check markings on the gun barrel to make sure they are brand new.

'We have connections with the local detention centre, but that's all you need to know for now.'

Another dealer said he could provide a variety of bombs made in Vietnam.

'A time bomb is 7,800 yuan. It can blow up an area of at least 20 square metres,' he said.

'We get it from Vietnam ... the longest you can set it for is three hours. If you don't want a time bomb, we also have a remote-controlled bomb, but it's the most expensive.

'It's 10,200 yuan - the 200 is for the remote control.'

He said the remote-controlled bomb could easily take down 'a entire block of buildings'. He added: 'We have our own way of dealing - usually it's by phone order and we will get the stuff ready.

'You won't be busted. We have been in the trade for six years and we have never had any trouble.'

The manufacture, transport, sale and storage of unauthorised guns, ammunition and explosives is a crime on the mainland and offenders can face life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

But the advertisements in rural backwaters such as Qiaojia show just how hard it is to enforce the law.

Yunnan police revealed that as well as the 2,300 firearms, they had seized more than 17,000 items of ammunition - including 72 hand grenades - and more than 10 tonnes of expired explosives since February.

The crackdown will continue until November.

Xinhua reported in October that mainland authorities had smashed a ring of firearms smugglers who sold guns and ammunition from Myanmar in Tibet, Sichuan and Yunnan.

Seventeen suspected smugglers were arrested and eight pistols, a rifle and 267 bullets seized.

Yunnan police said the people trafficking firearms were taking advantage of loose gun control laws amid armed conflicts in northern Myanmar.

The authorities in Qiaojia have blamed 26-year-old Zhao Dengyong for the explosion at the Huaqiao community office, but have failed to provide a motive.

They have insisted that the bombing had nothing to do with local grievances over forced demolitions.

Eyewitnesses have disputed the official account, while Zhao's neighbours, family and friends have described him as an 'honest, sincere and loving husband'.