Monday's events and opportunities Editorial

Stabroek News
November 4, 2002

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With the deaths of two of the February 23 escapees in Monday's shoot-outs the question on the minds of Guyanese is what sort of impact will it have on the crime wave that mushroomed earlier this year. Only time will tell.

Until then, the reassurances of the police force will have to suffice. Yet the events of Monday suggest that while there is some reason to be optimistic there is also plenty to still be worried about.

First, on an intelligence level, the police are still woefully stranded in the bronze age. They have little solid information on which to act preemptively. The shoot-out at Lamaha Gardens and the subsequent raids on other safehouses/armouries were from all indications occasioned by the escape of kidnapped businessman Brahmanand Nandalall. His flight to freedom triggered a series of events which up to that point the police were completely oblivious to. For the police to get on top of crime it needs much better intelligence-generating strategies. This is a long-standing deficiency that keeps cropping up.

Second, while there is some dispute over the police's role in the Lamaha Gardens shooting in which two men - including Dale Moore - were killed, there is no such disagreement over what happened a few hours later. All agree that the shooting deaths of Mark Fraser and Lancelot Roach on the East Coast were not as a result of a police operation. Who shot these men while they were apparently on their way to safe haven at Buxton? It can be of no comfort to the police and certainly not to a law and order society that two men could be gunned down in a fusillade of heavy weapons fire in the full glare of the public on a Monday morning by shadowy gunmen. This kind of extra-legal shoot-out is just as dangerous to society as the ravages of the February 23 band of men. Are the police scouring the city and its environs diligently for these men who seemed to have very good information on the movements of Fraser and the other man? Why were the police unable to take on Fraser that day? The police have appeared uninterested in solving the stream of execution-style killings in what seems to be private gang feuds. Albouystown alone has seen more than six deaths recently. The shootings of Fraser and Roach are a further sign that gangland crime has its tentacles well and truly entrenched here. No citizen can feel safe under these circumstances as no one can predict at whom these gunmen will take aim at next.

Third, as has been borne out in several other ways, the criminals who are feasting on the riches and sanity of Guyanese since February 23 are being aided by a dangerous group of persons with money to burn and who will stop at nothing. The relatively opulent dwellings in which the bandits were kept and the network of safe houses betrays the scale and intent of planning that is going into the criminals' horrific deeds. This is not the work of two or three people on the fringes of society with a few dollars to spare. This is the work of a Machiavellian cabal helped by many persons whose motivations may encompass greed, private vendettas, ethnic strife and political chaos.

Fourth, the unearthing of more than a dozen guns, more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition and a Molotov cocktail factory in the safe houses raises the distinct possibility that there are other hidden armouries servicing the needs of criminals. Who financed these purchases, where were they sourced and why didn't the police have an inkling of this? Who constructed the channa bombs and what were they to be used for? The police force needs to provide real answers.

The events of last Monday offer both the government and the police force two golden opportunities which may not come again soon. The first is to reestablish control over the security situation which deteriorated so rapidly after February 23 and the second is to use the wealth of clues and leads to unmask those behind this campaign of terror, murder and violence.

With the deaths on Monday and those earlier it is quite possible that a significant blow was dealt to the organised group that has burrowed deep into a part of Buxton - Buxghanistan as some of the villagers describe it - and connected areas. This is the time to try to flush out the remnants of this gang because they could easily regroup within the village and once support is available the country could find itself deeper in a bloodier bog. This, however, should not be the occasion for a heavy-handed response by the police. It must be done with pinprick precision and reliable intelligence and the objective must be to capture the remnants of the various cells and to bring them to justice. This is also the opportunity to try to rekindle an improved relationship between the police and Buxtonians. The police must never allow the kind of animosity that currently prevails between the force and the villagers to again disrupt their ability to perform their duties in the village. With the help of the government and the army, the police should seek out the voices of reason in Buxton and with their aid try to bring relations back on an even keel where the underlying principle is respect for law and order. Both the government and police in their varying obligations must seize this opportunity.

Secondly, a treasure trove of potentially damning evidence is now available to the government and the force if they are serious about real investigative work and building cases against those who masterminded these operations. There are many areas and the public expects to see progress on these.

Who rented and occupied the various safe houses?

What personal effects were retrieved from the safe houses and what clues do these provide?

Who rented/owned/used the various cars discovered in Monday's operations?

What do the phone records of calls between the safe houses show in terms of coordination?

What was known about the men who died in the shoot-outs but who up to that point were not on a wanted list?

Was the man found dead in the cemetery a short-term visitor with a specific purpose? Did he have valid travel documents?

Who were the mystery shooters on the East Coast? Have the police sought to positively identify them?

Would the serial numbers on the guns found answer where they were purchased and who owned them? Are we going to contact Interpol for access to its extensive database to trace the weaponry? Are these guns going to be subjected to ballistics examinations to determine whether they were fired at any of the crime scenes post-February 23 or in any murders?

Where does one easily find more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition and can this acquisition be easily traced?

The police are notorious for not doing adequate investigative work after shootings and running down all the leads. The force has already paid a high price in this current crime spree with the murders of ten of its men. It can ill afford to let these conditions continue. If it requires expert external help to aid these investigations it should request this and the government would be expected to provide.