U.S. Embassy concerned about security of diplomatic community
-- more support for local law enforcement agencies
By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
May 17, 2003

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THE U.S. diplomatic mission here is very concerned about security for its personnel and the entire diplomatic community resident in Guyana, particularly since the kidnapping of the U.S. diplomat, Steve Lesniak, who was released unharmed last month following the payment of a ransom.

At a news briefing at the U.S. Embassy yesterday, U.S. Ambassador, Mr. Ronald Godard said that as a result of the growing and unchecked crime situation over the past year, it has become necessary to apprise and alert U.S. citizens travelling to Guyana on the realities as they are here.

According to the Ambassador, who is also Dean of the diplomatic community in Guyana, the diplomatic missions here have had to review their security arrangements and implement new measures to boost their security capacity.

He said that while he understands the limitations facing the Government, it is the Administration's responsibility to provide adequate security for the international community resident here.

He added that in his capacity as Dean of the diplomatic community he has expressed the growing concern of diplomatic missions as regards the inadequacy of security with the Government.

The Government has been largely receptive, but has been disappointing in some areas, the Ambassador said without going into details.

He indicated that if adequate security is not provided and there is not a decrease in the current types of criminal activities there might be a reduced presence of U.S. diplomatic personnel. Asked if that would have a negative impact on the processing of travel documents, he said he would not rule out anything.

On whether the U.S. Government would be providing help to boost the security capabilities of the local law enforcement agencies, Godard said 10 members will be participating in a training course on hostage taking that would be conducted by U.S. security personnel in Trinidad next month.

Training will also be conducted in anti-narcotics techniques for customs and other relevant agencies with the intention of providing adequate equipment, he added.

The Ambassador said that the recent consular information to travellers was issued because of the increase in kidnappings and other violent crimes taking place with impunity and the failure of the security forces to apprehend the criminals.

He felt that they lack the capabilities to do so, adding that if the criminals were arrested the crime situation would have been reduced considerably. However, without giving details, he said some progress had been made in investigations into the Lesniak kidnapping.

He said the Consular Information Sheet is advising travellers to Guyana to avoid going to Buxton which is a haven for criminals, as well as to be extremely cautious when moving around Georgetown. The Consular Information Sheet is issued regularly by the U.S. State Department for several countries around the world.

As regards the recent find of marijuana aboard the Guyana Defence Force flagship, the `GDFS Essequibo', he said the U.S. is concerned but remarked "it is not the first time in history such an incident has occurred," adding that it has happened elsewhere from time to time.

Asked if the U.S. policy has changed in relation to deportees in view of the crime situation here, the Ambassador relied in the negative, stating that it is the obligation of every country to accept them as long as they are citizens of the country of their origin.

"Serious crime is concentrated in the more populated areas of the country, and the crime rate has risen sharply in urban centers. Georgetown in particular has seen a sharp rise in violent crime, including home invasions, kidnappings, car-jackings and shootings.

"Criminals act with relative impunity, with several police officers and government officials being victims of assaults and shootings. Vehicle occupants should keep their doors locked and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Robberies and thefts occur frequently in Georgetown and New Amsterdam.

"U.S. citizens should avoid stopping in or traveling to the village of Buxton, which lies along the road between Georgetown and New Amsterdam, as it is known to be a base for criminal activity," the Consular Information Sheet cautioned.

According to the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, travel warnings are issued when the State Department decides, based on all relevant information, to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Countries where avoidance of travel is recommended will have travel warnings as well as Consular Information Sheets, it said.

The U.S. State Department has issued similar travel advisories on Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

It notes that in Jamaica, gang violence and shootings occur regularly, while in Trinidad and Tobago, violent crimes, including assault, kidnapping and murder, have involved foreign residents and tourists, including U.S. citizens.

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