There can be no let up in this fight
January 13, 2003
As has been evident for a long time since February 23, 2002, the crime epidemic that has convulsed the country has been spearheaded by a band of men whose numbers vary due to deaths, defections etc. It is believed that the criminal masterminds of this operation remain in the background where they plan, gather intelligence and mobilise material and human resources in this insidious attack against the state, its citizens and more particularly the police force.
While the intensity of the criminal campaign has waxed and waned since February 23, no one has ever been seized by the feeling that the police force has gotten on top of the situation. The events of September 28 when two of the escapees and other criminal elements died led to false hopes of a decisive turn in the battle as recent killings of law enforcers and other outrages testify.
Along with the killings of three policemen and a CANU operative since the New Year, there has been a spate of bizarre and frightening arson attempts. The Kaieteur News printery at Eccles was severely hit and in a separate attack the Two Brothers gas station in the same area sustained some damage. Gas stations at Camp and New Market streets and Durban and Lime were also raided but attempts at setting destructive fires failed. The objective of these attacks seem to be a massive conflagration with the attendant chaos - a goal with purely terroristic motivations. As an aside, it is imperative that the Guyana Fire Service be on the highest alert and draw up a list of the possible targets that are most vulnerable and be prepared.
Apart from these attacks in and near to the city, the quagmire at Buxton remains. For the first time since February 23 a policeman on patrol in the village was killed by gunmen. The killing came on Wednesday - the start of a new law enforcement operation by the police and the army and after a day of tension between residents and the police. Residents had accused the police of brutal treatment when several stalls were broken and damaged during an operation in the village. The way that particular exercise was conducted is a hallmark of the police force which has not endeared it to any part of the country let alone Buxton. The wisdom of sending a single-vehicle police patrol into the village in the darkness following a day of hostility and in the full knowledge that there are armed and dangerous men in the village is truly inexplicable and the force should definitely reconsider its strategic planning in this respect. It has cost the life of a policeman.
Of even greater concern were the events of Friday. The police and army a day earlier had announced the start of Operation Saline Solution 11. On Friday, the joint services entered the village and were greeted by a hail of bullets fired into the air by gunmen who have set themselves up as "protectors" of the village. The joint services men took cover and the police later withdrew under the cover of the army - two soldiers to one policeman. Many residents left their homes probably in fear of a gunfight between the two sides and congregated in a safe area of the village voicing and chanting their opposition to the police's operations. Fires were set, roads were dug up and unbearable tension persisted all day. Gunmen have now publicly demonstrated to the country their level of organization in the village.
Whatever Operation Saline Solution was - it was definitely not a success in battling crime in Buxton or anywhere else. What would make the second instalment of this oddly named operation any more successful is not clear at all. Yet, it must have the full support of the public. It is all we have at the moment to cling to and to hope for salvation from crime.
It has not been an auspicious start. A policeman killed on patrol and a volley of bullets into the air from gunmen in Buxton clearly delineate the scope of the problem that the joint services face. The gunmen have thrown down the gauntlet.
And what do the citizens of Buxton say? Some say that since Shaka Blair's killing by the police last year they want to have nothing to do with the police force. It could be genuine sentiment or cover to permit the lawlessness and criminality that the village has become synonymous with.
There is a great obligation on both sides. The police - under murderous attack from gunmen and a sea of criticisms from the public - must find a way to effectively and firmly police without resorting to extra-judicial killings, cruelty and coarseness. On the other hand, the honourable villagers of Buxton must reflect deeply within and find a way to help purge their village of the criminal elements that have held the centre of coastal Guyana hostage to terror and the spectre of death. The two sides must then begin a genuine attempt to mend relations.
There are other groups with obligations and the PNCR is one of them. Its Acting Leader Robert Corbin on Friday wrote President Jagdeo and Commissioner of Police McDonald expressing concern over the crudeness of the police operation in Buxton on Wednesday. He stressed that the situation was volatile, could escalate into national crisis, requested a meeting with the commissioner and urged a review of the present operation in the East Coast communities. Nowhere, however, in his two letters was there any reference to the murder of policeman Nankumar Mohabir on the same Wednesday in the same village of Buxton by gunmen who have found safe haven there. It is that type of public one-sidedness that has dogged the PNCR's efforts in these matters. What is the PNCR saying to those gunmen in Buxton and those who are sheltering them if anything? The President, the commissioner and the public would like to know.
The events since the start of the year make it clear that there can be no let up whatsoever in this fight against the February 23 criminal movement and the whole country waits to see whether Operation Saline Solution 11 helps the besieged patient.