BRUSSELS, Sept. 1 (Xinhua) -- Authorities in Belgium have lost trace of more than 300,000 guns in the past decade, local media reported on Tuesday, citing new data from the country's federal firearms department.
Sudpresse local newspaper group reports that an inventory carried out by the government department in June found 426,939 firearms were registered in Belgium, down from 889,937 recorded in 2006 when a new weapons law was enacted.
It is reported that part of the difference in numbers is explained by the fact that, over the past decade, about 125,000 guns have been handed in to authorities, but that still leaves approximately 330,000 weapons unaccounted for between 2006 and this year.
Federal firearms department chief Philip Ide told Sudpresse: "More than 300,000 arms have disappeared in one way or another. They exist, but nobody knows where they are or who owns them."
According to Flemish newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, it is feared that at least 100,000 of these missing weapons have reached the criminal underworld.
Belgian federal justice minister Koen Geens said in an interview with Flemish public broadcaster VRT on Tuesday that the government is preparing a new firearms amnesty in light of the new data, to encourage people to come forward if they own a gun that has not been properly registered.
He said: "People are not easily separated from something that in reality they are no longer allowed to have."
The firearms department believes that the majority of the missing guns are in the French-speaking Wallonia region, in the south of the country.
Mr Ide told Sudpresse: "In the south, firearms possession has been engrained in local culture for generations. That could be explained by the fact that Wallonia is bigger and its residents are more isolated from urban areas than in Flanders [the Dutch-speaking north]."
Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad says the province around the southern Belgian city of Namur has the highest concentration of firearms in circulation, at 81 per 1,000 population.
Belgium's 2006 gun law, which aimed to make it more difficult for private citizens to acquire firearms, came in the aftermath of a public shooting in Antwerp in which two people were killed.