Safe havens and abettors Editorial
Stabroek News
May 20, 2002

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It is now approaching three months since five men broke out of the Camp Street prison, killing a guard and critically wounding another. If there was any hope that the law enforcement authorities would have been able to effect a rapid recapture of the five that has long evaporated and we are obviously in a wait and see mode. Short of a surrender of the men, the police must now be waiting for the escapees to make a mistake and hope that they can snare them then. Given our porous and poorly patrolled borders it is just a matter of time before they flee further afield.

It is troubling and incredible that the escapees have been able to elude the police for so long. Why has this been so? There are two key reasons.

First, the escapees have a lot of helpers. There is a network of collaborators and abettors that have kept, fed and even televised the criminals. It is increasingly clear that a large number of persons have become accomplices in this assault on law and order. Safe domains have been provided along with caretakers, medical assistance, food, transportation, media access, protection, weaponry that would put well-equipped guerrilla units to shame, and, of course, the ubiquitous cellular telephones.

It boggles the minds. Who are these persons who have abased themselves by aligning with these criminals? These persons are accessories to a whole host of dangerous crimes that the escapees have been linked to including the killing of policeman Leon Fraser and they should be made to feel the full weight of the law.

The second problem is that safe havens for the escapees and other criminals have been carved out of communities which have had fractious relations with the police recently. Following the killing of Shaka Blair by the police in Buxton and the eruption of hostilities between the police and residents, it was only a matter of time before the area became a magnet for criminals. The police have been fired at from within Buxton and it has been made clear to them that they won't be tolerated in the village because of fears of extra-judicial acts and brutishness. This has obviously made the police force cautious about entering the village and engaging in aggressive patrolling. In the neighbouring village of Friendship there have even been reports that the police have not responded to criminal attacks by one of the escapees on citizens in the area.

Consequently, since the February 23 breakout, there have been numerous reports that the escapees have been seen operating with impunity in Buxton/Friendship and there have been other reports that gunmen who have committed murders have come from and escaped into the Buxton/Friendship communities. The most recent example of this was the killing of the Annandale couple two Saturdays ago and the murder of policeman Harry Kooseram.

This cannot go on unchecked otherwise enclaves of criminality will flourish and threaten all of Guyana. The police must therefore have complete and unfettered access to Buxton/Friendship and other communities across the country where dens of criminals exist. The police and leaders of the affected communities must see to this. The concerns of Buxtonians and other villagers about the brutal methods of the police and the prospect of extra-judicial killings are well understood and well founded. The solution or counterpoint to this is not however to protect criminals and to allow them to sow mayhem and kill people at will. To allow this is to dangerously weaken the pillars of law and order on which the society stands. It therefore behoves the police and the villagers to come to an understanding on the way forward so that the criminals have little space in which to conduct their murderous operations.

There is also a great moral and overriding obligation upon all those who hold sway in these areas where criminals are being given succour - no matter the justification - to root out this practice. There can be no justification at all for any act of kindness to these criminals. Clearly aid is being given to keep the escapees ahead of the game and many ordinary citizens have a hand in this.

This rolling fear that stalks the land must drive home to the administration that its approach to law enforcement has failed miserably and has sparked a backlash where ordinary citizens are seized with such fear and disdain of the police force that they may likely turn a blind eye to the criminals or help them rather than opt for a slice of the $10M reward pie that has been laid out for them. It is a telling message that calls for urgent redress.