Youth gang descends on Vigilance homes
-carry away household items
Almost a weekly occurrence, say villagers By Kim Lucas
Stabroek News
January 19, 2003

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A large gang of teenage gunmen raided several homes in the village of Vigilance yesterday morning, holding guns to housewives' heads and robbing them of jewellery and household items. Villagers claimed this was an almost weekly occurrence.

The bandits, said to be between 14 and 17 years old, attacked about five households just before 10:00 am while most of the men were away at work. They carted off a quantity of gold jewellery and household items. Repeated demands were also made for "de estate money."

Some residents who cut cane for Guysuco told Stabroek News that they had received `back pay' on Friday. Late Friday night, several Guysuco employees were reportedly robbed. A businessman, his wife and their employees were kidnapped while travelling along the East Coast Demerara. They were released after a ransom was paid.

When Stabroek News visited the Vigilance South community, irate residents were openly critical of President Jagdeo's handling of the crisis, as well as the operations being conducted by the army and police. They warned that "we now got to band we belly" and do whatever is necessary to protect their community and their families.

One fisherman returned home yesterday from sea only to hear that his pregnant wife and four children had been terrorised. The family had apparently managed to lock themselves indoors just as the marauding gang descended. The bandits broke all the windows on that family's home, while demanding money.

When the fisherman heard of the robberies, he immediately took his father's axe and destroyed the bridge between Vigilance South and Brushe Dam, Friendship. Authorities believe that criminal elements are being harboured in several areas along the coast, especially the adjoining villages of Friendship and Buxton. Several joint operations have been launched along the East Coast Demerara, but banditry continues with impunity in the very villages the lawmen claim to be protecting.

"Me is a fisherman and come in and hear... Me just now come in from sea. What yuh want abe [creole: meaning `us'] do? I go and bruk out de bridge. I tek meh father axe and bruk de bridge. Christmas Day they come and carry that man [his father's] TV, like if they come and buy this f... thing and give we. They carry 'way meh cell phone, bicycle. Them man a come here high day time, with some long, long guns in a bag. That is how them a operate. Come just suh, kick down de door or jump over de fence... They operate like if they come and lef thing here..." the fisherman stated.

Bandits search for 'estate money'

One housewife, 48-year- old Somaira Patiram, told this newspaper that yesterday's attacks were launched simultaneously and were all over in about 15 minutes.

"In 15 minutes time, dem boy done run this place. Plenty of them come... you can't even know how much of them. But all what me know, me just make one cup tea and me hear de gate chain knock. When me go fo come out to see, de people done deh [on the] step with the gun pon you. Two small gun... but the rest [of them] had big gun outside," the woman recounted.

Around the same time, she realised that other gunmen were attempting to enter the house obliquely opposite. A child home alone had already locked herself in. The men fired two rounds in that yard instead and left.

"They tell me shut me mouth and them a cuss. So me nah say nothing. Them go in de house and dem a search [and] tumble [her husband's] pants. They ask me for the money from yesterday [Friday]. Me say, `Ow meh God! Me nah got people who a work estate. Me got one sickly husband and me husband nah a work,'" Somaira told this newspaper.

Not finding any money in the woman's humble home, the gunmen carted off her large television set.

Across the road, 31-year- old Muntaz and her three children had guns placed to their heads, while they were stripped of their gold jewellery. In the end, the bandits left with her CD player worth $140,000, a stabiliser valued at $10,000, a new cellular phone, which she had received from abroad, and a quantity of expensive footwear and jewellery.

Muntaz's mother, who was visiting for a few days, was stripped of two gold rings and a pair of gold earrings, all worth about $20,000. The young woman herself lost two rings and a pair of gold earrings. According to the woman, one of the gunmen also tried to snatch a pair of gold earrings that her five-year-old daughter was wearing. She managed to save the child just in time, offering, instead to remove the jewellery herself.

"They go fo buss she ears down and me grab and hold he [the bandit's] hand and tell he me go loose it out," Muntaz told Stabroek News.

The woman claimed the robbery, now almost a weekly occurrence, took her unawares yesterday and did not afford her time to grab her children and run.

"Me stand up hanging clothes out there when one come with a gun. Me see he jump over the gate and he tell me, `Don't move!'... He bring me in the house and put me to stand up and he say if he don't find none money, he gone kill abe... He tumble up everything, bruk up everything. He bruk up a whole set a glass - just dash them things all over the house and bruk up meh things them. All me husband shoe they gone with. Me husband `Clarks' [shoes] worth $10,500 and me boots [which cost $14,500] and a new brand shoe value $7,500. They carry way new brand thing what deh in boxes," the young woman lamented.

It was then that the woman revealed that almost every Saturday the residents of the predominantly Indian community are attacked by marauding bands who cross from the direction of Friend-ship. This was later confirmed by other villagers.

"This happen every Saturday and every other Saturday," she said. "Abe got to run. Abe got to lef this house and get away and go hide behind suh," Muntaz said as she pointed towards the backyard by the pit latrines. "You does always see them come every Saturday, every Saturday. But this Saturday me ain't know how they come and ketch abe... Abe does drop de house with everything and run out."

Her elderly mother-in-law, who lives next door, managed to hide in the toilet yesterday when the gang launched the attack. At the time, Muntaz was hanging out the laundry and talking to the old woman. Then she realised that her in-law had gone silent.

"Me and she a gaff [then] she stop talk and... run and go hide in she toilet." The thieves entered the old woman's house and reportedly carted away her television set and stabiliser.

The woman said despite the ongoing military presence on the East Coast Demerara, residents are still fearful. Stabroek News understands that just a few days earlier, gunmen struck at Muntaz's mother-in-law and held up one of Muntaz's young daughters at gunpoint.

Abandoned homes

"This place here a get serious. When you phone de station, they [the police] coming when the people dem done gone and when you go there to make a report, one hour straight yuh got to wait. `What yuh come for?' Da de attitude of the police dem in the station," one visibly upset man stated. The Vigilance Police Station is about two minutes drive from yesterday's robbery scene.

"When yuh call Vigilance, de police always busy. Dey don't do nothing. When de scene [robbery] done, then them come and when them come, they mek two spin. How long a robbery nah pass again, they nah come in back," some of the men argued.

Some residents identified a house to which they say the bandits carry the loot. But according to the residents, the police do not ever go there to retrieve the stolen goods.

"When people [the bandits] carry things and lef at the house, they [the police] nah want go by the house... They [the bandits] deh pon this dam, park up... If you buy a bag of rice or a nice TV for sit down and watch picture, they come and tek it... Me father a wuk so hard [cutting] cane and they go rob that man and go fuh kill um..."

Some residents of Vigilance South told this newspaper that because of the ongoing attacks, they are packing up and moving out. Others have nowhere to run.

Along the railway embankment at Strathspey, the village to the east of Vigilance, several cottages stand abandoned - some with doors wide open, while others are boarded up.

On January 8, the army and police launched another in a series of operations in the lower East Coast Demerara. Operation Saline Solution II, a specialised campaign with Operation Tourniquet, is aimed at flushing out criminals who are suspected to be hiding in coastal villages between Good Hope and Paradise.

A senior law enforcement official told Stabroek News on Friday that the criminals are feeling the pressure from the campaign. Since the start of the newest operation members of the police force and civilians have been killed and robbed.

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