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Cyprus

No recall of army rifles after shooting

Police investigators at the scene of the crime on Wednesday (Christos Theodorides)

By Constantinos Psillides

THE defence ministry said yesterday it would not ban reservists from taking home their weapons, a day after a Nicosia man shot and killed his ex wife and nine-year-old daughter, critically injured his son, 14, and turned the army-issue weapon on himself.

After a meeting to discuss the Wednesday shooting, Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaides, said: “The reason that first led us 20 years ago to introduce the practice is still here… meaning the Turkish occupation… so we cannot rescind it.”

What matters is not the means to a crime but the reasons behind it, he added.

On Wednesday afternoon, Andreas Pittis, 41, used the military-issue G3 rifle to shoot his estranged wife Margarita, 35, through the front windshield of her car as she sat in the driver’s seat. The car was parked outside his parent’s home in Strovolos.

The two children tried to run but Pittis gunned down his small daughter in the street and then chased his son to a nearby plot where Pittis shot him twice from behind, injuring the boy in the lungs and leg. Standing over his son’s body, Pittis then took his own life.

The boy is currently at Nicosia General. Yesterday doctors said he was in a stable condition and they were discussing taking him off the ventilator.

“With caution I can tell you that the child is out of danger,” said Intensive Care Unit chief, Dr Theodoros Kyprianou.

He said the 14-year old had a superficial wound on his right thigh and a more serious one on his upper back. “Thankfully his lung was not heavily damaged,” the doctor added.

The fact that the killer used a military rifle to carry out the murders sparked an outcry with calls for reservists to return them.

Fokaides openly admitted that there was no certain way to ensure that military rifles would not be used in future crimes.

“We have to be honest with society. Regardless of how many measures we take, we cannot stop army rifles from being used in criminal activities,” he said.

The defence minister also argued that even if they recalled every reservist gun, people would still find a way to kill.

“Our aim is to minimise danger,” said the minister, following a meeting with representatives from the National Guard and the police to come up with ways to better monitor weapons given to reservists.

The defence ministry gave one week to all relevant authorities to report on how many of the measures decided by former Defence Minister Photis Photiou had been implemented.

In October – following a similar incident when a man in Limassol shot and killed his wife and injured his 10-year old daughter- Photiou announced a number of measures, including surprise visits to reservists homes to check if their weapon was properly stored.

Following yesterday’s meeting, Fokaides told the press that a new meeting was set up for next week.

“This is not the time for rush decisions. Attention now should be directed to identify the reasons that led the man to this murder and ensure that army rifles are only used for their intended purpose,” he said.

The minister also met with the House Defence Committee yesterday to discuss the recalling of G3s.

According to data presented by the police during the committee session, in 2013, 11 murders were reported and only 1 was related to a G3 rifle.

Committee chairman, EDEK’s Giorgos Varnava, said that if someone decided to commit murder then he would find a way to do it.

“Based on the evidence with which we were presented, the state should also outlaw hunting rifles and any other weapon that could used in a murder,” said Varnava, responding to a question on whether the committee should consider banning military rifles.

Varnavas argued that what was important was not the fact that the murder was committed using a military rifle, “but the fact that a compatriot who people said was quiet and peaceful was driven to the point where he decided to murder his family.”

The only MP who asked for an outright ban was Andreas Michaelides of DISY, while AKEL MP Irini Charalambidou asked for a psychological evaluation for anyone issued with a military rifle or a hunting permit.

National Guard chief, Lieutenant-General Stylianos Nassis, rejected claims that the measures announced on October were not followed. Nassis claimed that the army did everything asked, with the exception of a study that was supposed to be commissioned by the Cyprus University.

“We were notified by the police on the cases of 77 reservists that should not be issued a gun. We recalled 14 guns since the rest were not issued a gun in the first place,” he said.

The Psychologists Association also issued a statement on the subject, asking that the practice for handing over guns to reservists be re-evaluated.

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