Buxtonians uneasy at army operations
Embankment road dug up again, soldiers sit in at briefing
June 8, 2002
Articles on crime
Residents of Buxton/Friend-ship, East Coast Demerara, yesterday expressed unease at operations of the Guyana Defence Force in the village and said they had not been consulted on it.
This complaint was made at press conference called by the Association of Concerned Buxtonians yesterday at the Buxton/Foulis Neighbour-hood Democratic Council (NDC). The group of concerned residents included Chairman of the NDC, Randolph Blair, who said the press conference was called to clear the air on issues affecting the community.
On Wednesday, the GDF launched Operation Tourniquet, which is a joint exercise with the Guyana Police Force to flush out bandits said to be on the lower East Coast Demerara.
The concerned citizens said yesterday that residents emerged from their homes to find their village under what they could only describe as a "curfew" since they were greeted with hundreds of military personnel in the village.
They said that the army had transported about four truckloads of heavily armed ranks into the village and this was scaring the children and even adults.
During the press conference, GDF ranks entered the building stating that they had been instructed to sit in on the event.
Buxtonians also complained about the racket created by the army's helicopter. Residents from other areas in and around the city also mentioned the low flying army helicopter and Stabroek News was told that the chopper was patrolling the areas for criminals. Stabroek News was also told yesterday that ranks from the police force and the army searched two homes in Paradise, East Coast Demerara, as there were reports that wanted men were in those homes.
And the police, in a press release issued yesterday confirmed that late on Thursday evening criminal elements attacked two minibuses along the Buxton Public Road. The first minibus, BHH 4898, was taken from the driver and driven to Company Path Road where two wheels were removed and the windscreen broken. The second minibus, BEE 3892, had all the glass on its left side broken. According to the release, around the same time, logs of various lengths were placed across the Railway Embankment Road in the vicinity of Company Path. During the night, two areas along the Embankment Road, which were recently repaired by the GDF were dug up. The logs, the release said, were removed early yesterday morning and the ditches filled in by the police and soldiers. The situation yesterday was said to be stable.
Blair told reporters that residents were not anti-police, adding that over the past weeks they have worked along with the military in their recently completed Exercise Plaster of Paris, where they repaired the Railway Embankment. He said that they gave the army full cooperation even though there were fears by some residents that the presence of the ranks in the village was a "sell out". According to him, the question being asked daily was when will the police shoot and the army had assured them that in clearing the embankment there would have been no police, "especially the `Black Clothes'", in the village.
Blair yesterday described the launch of Operation Tourniquet as "unfortunate" since Buxtonians were not sure whether the police manning the roadblocks were elements of the `Black Clothes' whom the army had guaranteed would not be in their village. He later told this newspaper that even though the army had told them of plans to launch further operations in the village they were not officially told and only heard of it on the news.
According to the concerned residents, their present discomfort with the army, despite the fact that they were always willing to accommodate it and other law enforcement agencies, was that the army's role in Buxton had changed since the recent exercise and no one informed the community.
In response to a question about the belief that Buxton was harbouring criminals, namely the five dangerous bandits who broke out of the Georgetown Prison on February 23, the residents said that they are not aware of any criminal elements in the village.
On a number of occasions the police had issued releases stating that hijacked cars that had been used in robberies were found abandoned in Buxton or in the vicinity of the village.
"It is our opinion that the present state of Buxton at this moment is because of the failure of the authorities to deal with our concerns at the earliest possible moment," one resident said adding, "a large problem could have been solved when it was small."
They called on President Bharrat Jagdeo to visit the village and discuss residents' concerns since they were deserving of his presence. They pointed out that the president had visited other villages, which in reported frustration had committed some unlawful acts, but which were still given a hearing with the head of state.
In an opening statement the group said that the social and economic needs of the community were being neglected by those who controlled the state machinery.
"Our young men and women are without adequate recreational facilities. Those who are out of school are without hope of being gainfully employed because of the odds stacked against them," the statement said.
It was argued that some 161 years after the village was established residents were still forced to fetch water and endure floods as soon as the rains came, while recently established communities enjoyed the privileges of paved streets, running water in their homes and other basic amenities.
Mention was made of the recent killing of Shaka Blair by the police and also the killing of one Rory Scott by the police in 1999. It was pointed out that in these two instances and others, leaders of the village sought the intervention of the relevant authorities with a view to alleviating the socio-economic crisis and resolving the differences between the police and the villagers. According to the statement, the most recent of these approaches were meetings with Deputy Commissioner of Police, Winston Felix; and the May 20 meeting with Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj; which dealt with the shooting of Blair. "These meetings have yielded little or no information relevant to a resolution of the present stand-off. It is our opinion that the failure of the relevant authorities to confront this and the afore-mentioned issues in a timely manner has led to the present state of affairs," the statement said.
The group said it was confident that should the issue be addressed amicably and with some sense of urgency, the atmosphere would be created for renewed good relations between Buxtonians, the police and other relevant agencies.
The group objected to what it described as statements by members of the government, some media houses and individuals, which labelled the community as a criminal one. "Of course we have received a few unconfirmed reports of people being attacked by our villagers. We wish to register our disagreement to any such incident and urge our residents to resist the temptation to be lured into illegal and criminal acts by outsiders even as we strive to achieve ... justice for our people," the statement said.