Battling kidnappers and terrorists
...Antigua's PM calls for special regional force
By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
April 18, 2003

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LAST Saturday's kidnapping of a senior United States diplomatic officer in the U.S. Embassy in Guyana has had the effect of moving at least one Caribbean Community Prime Minister to revisit the idea for establishing a special regional mechanism to rapidly and effectively respond to security challenges such as kidnappings of public officials, acts of terrorism and other serious crime.

Prime Minister Lester Bird of Antigua and Barbuda, who had first raised the necessity for such a mechanism when CARICOM leaders met in The Bahamas to consider improved security measures in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes against the USA, is convinced that now, more than ever, priority needs to be given to such an idea.

In Guyana last July, when protestors in an illegal anti-government demonstration invaded the Presidential Complex of President Bharrat Jagdeo while the 23rd CARICOM Summit was taking place in Georgetown, Prime Minister Bird had warned of criminals engaging in "guerrilla warfare" to undermine the rule of law and provoke political destabilisation.

The Community leaders were still in session when Bird came up with the specific proposal for the urgent establishment of what he identified as a Caribbean Rapid Response Anti-Crime Force.

Or, as he explained to the media, "some similar mechanism to beat back the very serious criminal threat we are facing..."

In the wake of the abduction by armed criminals of the American diplomatic personnel, Stephen Lesniak, released on demand of ransom payment after ten hours in captivity, I telephoned Prime Minister Bird to find out whether now was the time to revisit his own idea for a special anti-crime regional force.

I discovered that he was indeed so concerned over the implications for all Community partner states by the kidnapping of a U.S. diplomatic mission officer in Guyana at this time, that he was already in the process of communicating with the current Chairman of CARICOM, Prime Minister Pierre Charles of Dominica, on the matter.

Bird is convinced that the Community should not wait "any longer" for matters to get worse, as he said, before taking "the most appropriate initiatives".

He has, therefore, decided to formally request Prime Minister Charles to inform all fellow heads of government on the need for a special rapid response anti-crime mechanism linked to the Regional Security System (RSS) that is headquartered in Barbados.

In explaining some ideas on the issue, Bird said the mechanism he envisages could be comprised of some of the best elements of national security forces of the Community and operate under the umbrella of the RSS with non-member states like Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago becoming involved by entering into suitable Memoranda of Understanding MOUs).

The idea could be activated in the context of plans being discussed within the framework of the Regional Task Force on Crime and Security.

Against the background of escalating kidnappings for ransom, some with fatal consequences, in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, there are growing demands from various segments of those societies for national master plans on crime and security -- an idea also considered by the Regional Task Force on Crime and Security.

There are now calls not just for sharing of critical intelligence information across the region. There are also suggestions for active collaboration in the sharing of security personnel and resources, over specified periods, to strengthen local anti-crime forces in battling criminals whose kidnappings, daring armed robberies and terroristic activities are increasingly endangering national security and, by extension, impacting negatively on the Caribbean Community's development efforts.

After this weekend 's Easter festival is over, we may learn if any new regional initiative will in fact take place on the creation of a strategic rapid response security force for which Prime Minister Bird feels financial and technical assistance could be obtained from major aid donor partners.
(Reprinted from yesterday's `Our Caribbean' column by Rickey Singh in the Weekend Nation of Barbados)

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