Residents who fled homes over crime wave returning
By Nigel Williams
June 23, 2003
Residents who had abandoned their homes in the villages of Strathpey and Vigilance in the wake of armed attacks and banditry over the past fifteen months are beginning to return.
Some of them said yesterday that they have returned temporarily to the East Coast Demerara villages while others say they are there to stay permanently.
After the February 23, 2002 jail-break, villages such as Annandale, Bladen Hall, Vigilance, Non Pariel and Strathspey had been at the mercy of armed gangs operating out of Buxton/Friendship. For months the residents of Annandale suffered the brunt of the attacks until the joint services stepped up operations there, causing the bandits to shift their attacks to other villages.
During some of the attacks, residents were raped, torched, beaten and killed at the hands of these gangs. Consequently, a number of groceries/stores in the villages were forced to conduct business at the gate as some of the bandits began posing as customers. Following calls from the residents, the government decided to block two of the bridges: one separating Vigilance from Buxton and the other Annandale from Buxton. As soon as the bridges were blocked, attacks on these villages were significantly reduced. Some of the residents had welcomed the initiative.
The situation improved further in recent months after some of the notorious wanted men like Shawn Brown and Romel Reman died in joint services operations. Since then, the army has removed the barriers on the bridges and cleared the entire embankment road which was blocked by residents of different villages using an assortment of impediments. Moreover, vehicles are now being allowed through Buxton and yesterday traffic was flowing smoothly through the village along the embankment unhindered. Previously, traffic was confined to the main road outside of Buxton and even this was susceptible to frequent attacks by gangs of gunmen. Several commuters had died in attacks on the Buxton main road.
At both bridges on the embankment road, the soldiers have put up road blocks which allow them to carefully screen vehicles traversing the area.
Stabroek News caught up yesterday with Hemraj who was seen attending to his kitchen garden on the Strathspey Railway Embankment. Hemraj said he had moved out during the crime spree but had always kept an eye on his farm. He returned to his home two weeks ago. According to him even though he was never attacked during the crime spree he could not stay on at his home due to constant pressure from his family for them to remove.
“I would a stay, but mi wife and children dem use to tell mi leh we move out. So we went away and used to live by she mother central of the village.”
Hemraj told this newspaper that while away his two-bedroom wooden home had not suffered any damage, neither was there any theft. “Everything that I left hay I come back and meet, nothing was removed.”
Asked to comment on the situation at present, Hemraj said that he felt more safe and secure than before. He observed that there have been constant patrols by the Guyana Defence Force around the area and as such they were feeling safer moving around their yard and in the village. Hemraj said it was unfortunate that it took fifteen months of bloodshed for the situation to be brought under control.
“It is sad to know that it tek so long for dem to catch dem bandits. Look how many people dead and get rob. But boy I want to thank God for sparing me and mi family life.”
Next door to him reside the Sookdeos who had to flee their home due to an attempted robbery sometime around December last year. According to one family member they only recently returned to the house that they had built a few months before the crime situation exploded in the country.
The family acknowledged that they are still apprehensive.
“We can’t tell. One time this place does deh quiet and then a next time is sheer worries.”
According to the family member while they will be hoping to return fully very soon to their home, they were not in any rush.
“We have to look on first. I see some ah we neighbour move in back so we go look and see how they living before we come back.”
Yesterday some family members were seen attending to their kitchen garden while others were involved in cleaning the yard and the upstairs of the house.
Across at Vigilance, residents who were forced to remove a few bridges that had connected them to Friendship were going about their daily lives with more comfort. Many of them simply said that they were now enjoying a better life than before. At Annandale, the story was similar with most of the grocery shops opened and the owners were observed doing business as usual.
A businessman in the village said that he had not heard of anyone being robbed or beaten in the village for the past month. According to the man, previously a group of men used to loiter around the market area but they have not been seen for sometime now. Stabroek News understands that most of these villages have resuscitated their Community Policing Groups and residents were now keeping a close eye out for strangers.