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Stabroek News
September 30, 2002

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Following Wednesday’s assault on Natoo’s in which four people including a woman were murdered by indiscriminate gunfire, an emergency meeting was convened of top government and security officials. What happened at this meeting is not known and there has been no stepped up response commensurate with the reign of deadly banditry. Neither has there been any pronouncement on new initiatives to be taken. So essentially the hapless, traumatized citizen is in the same place he/she has been since the February 23 jailbreak - universally accepted as the harbinger of the savage string of murders and armed robberies since.

While the Natoo’s attack was extremely alarming and warranted an emergency meeting, the truth is that the crisis has long been upon us and the time for a robust government/security services response is far overdue. Since February 23, twelve security officers have been gunned down by criminals. That in itself is the amplest testimony of the crisis we are in. Yet, the government and the police have mouthed the same platitudes at mournful funeral after funeral. The threnodic words ring painfully hollow.

As we have said many times before the ball is in the government’s court. Get all the political parties and social partners to swing behind it in this campaign against crime or go it alone. Either way take the tough decisions on the army, a state of emergency and intensified searches and interceptions. The government has failed comprehensively to act and this failure is attributable to President Jagdeo.

The situation is worsening by the day. A day after the Natoo’s attack gunmen riddled the prison officers club injuring six and a large band of armed men laid siege to the Vigilance Police Station but were beaten back. This gang of men - no doubt accoutred with the vast array of handguns stolen since February 23 - originated in Buxton and a series of incidents followed during which an army patrol retaliated after it was attacked. At the end of the confrontation one man was injured and another died. Apparently incensed at the army’s intervention, several gunmen stood on the Buxton public road - not a cross street in the village, the public road - and started firing at passing cars. They picked one and fired mercilessly at it killing two Berbicians who were on their way to the airport. Two others who were due to fly out of the country managed to flee the car but left their luggage behind.

The calculated attack on the Buxton public road committed without the slightest worry by the gunmen epitomizes the pitiful failure of the government’s strategy and the much vaunted police/army collaboration - Operation Tourniquet. The plan thus far has been to have the army - the police are persona non grata - patrolling the Buxton public road to prevent attacks exactly like the one that occurred on Friday. The strategy clearly failed to protect the lives of the Berbicians who travelled from the Corentyne that day. The belated appearance of the army and the police restored some control but the entire coast had already been thoroughly frightened and unwilling to travel on this vital stretch of the east coast road.

The government’s strategy has failed because it has adopted a defensive posture, preferring to try and protect vital arteries and to mount peripheral patrols in the hope of dissuading and intercepting the bandits. It has had very limited success. The bandits have shown through a stream of deadly hit and run attacks that this strategy will not stop them. The only way they will be stopped is by going to the source. Buxton has clearly established itself as an armed guerilla camp. Security intelligence has discerned that deep within the village protection has been given to gunmen - bearing out the reports that have surfaced since February 23. Numerous complicit residents have given them cover and utilised cell phones to warn them of approaching dangers. All of their needs - food, shelter and medical care have been taken care of apparently in return for a share of the spoils from attacks on businesses.

Preferably with the support of the PNC/R, the government and its security services have to stop mollycoddling the sections of Buxton that have helped create the anarchical conditions the country finds itself in. The intelligence gathered has to be used to go into the village to apprehend those who have participated in these terror attacks and to seize the illegal weapons that are providing the bullets in this campaign of death.

Saturday’s pre-dawn operation at Buxton is a start. The section of the village known as the `Gulf’ was cordoned off and searched. Around 25 houses were checked but no wanted persons, firearms or ammunition were found. Could it be that the criminals got wind of the exercise? These searches have to be continued and a strong presence maintained in the village to prevent abominations like the Friday morning attack that left two people dead.