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Pitcairn islanders to surrender guns

Published: 6:32PM Wednesday August 11, 2004 Source: Reuters

Descendants of English mutineers living on remote Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific have been ordered to surrender their guns amid fears that a trial for alleged child sex offences could lead to violence.

Pitcairn has a population of 45 people, who have about 20 guns between them. The deadline for them to surrender their weapons is September 7.

The island's governor, the British high commissioner in New Zealand, has ordered that the weapons be handed in to the British colony's two policemen, a commission spokesman said on Wednesday.

"We thought it prudent to take the guns out of the community when emotions could be running high," the spokesman said.

He said there was a more general safety risk because the island's population will swell by about 25 during the trial.

"There is the possibility of them wandering into shot when somebody is hunting. The island is not all that big and it is covered in vegetation and the potential for an accident is very real," the spokesman said.

Seven Pitcairn Island men, descendants of 18th century mutineers who rebelled against Captain William Bligh aboard the Bounty, face a total of 96 sex charges, some dating back more than 40 years. The trial is due to start on September 23.

The men are charged with having sex with under-age girls. British law forbids having sex with a girl under 16.

Pitcairn islanders say they have a tradition dating back to Fletcher Christian and his mutineers, who had numerous Tahitian wives, whereby they had consensual sex with island girls.

The British government plans to ship in police, a jail and court officials for a trial expected to last for about six weeks.