Plan in place to secure East Bank corridor - Rohee
- as Cricket World Cup nears
Stabroek News
November 19, 2006

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Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee says citizens' apprehension about security on the East Bank Demerara is justifiable given recent events, but he added that just as lawmen have maintained a posture on the East Coast to entrap criminals on the run, the same would be done on the East Bank.

"It is an area of concern for the police force," Rohee said in a recent interview with this newspaper. He said the police could not lapse in this area as they must ensure that the corridor was a place of safety and security.

"They have to do that - it is their role because if they don't fear and insecurity will spread," he said.

Addressing concerns in the light of Cricket World Cup next year, the Home Affairs Minister promised heavy police presence along the East Bank Demerara corridor. Cricket would be played at the Providence Stadium located about two miles from crime-besieged Agricola and thousands of visitors are expected. Rohee said the Joint Services would step up patrols in the volatile areas between Mc Doom and Eccles.

Gunmen on two occasions this year staged daring attacks in that area, killing eight persons in the first instance and another six during the second rampage.

Asked to comment on the perception that Agricola and Buxton, two Black communities, have been ignored by his government over the years and have thus produced a number of disadvantaged youth who have turned to a life of crime, Rohee said this was not so. He said poverty and crime were everywhere and one must not put a colour to the crimes that were being committed these days.

Agricola and Buxton are hotbeds for criminal violence and gunmen operating in these villages over recent months have sought to spread their activities to Melanie, Victoria and Bare Root - all predominantly black communities. Rohee told Stabroek News this issue has always been debated, but he asserted that crime has no colour or creed, noting that there were cases where Indo-Guyanese were caught up in criminal gangs and committed murders and other serious crimes.

He said that the villages of Buxton and Agricola have been criminalized by pockets of bandits and in neither case was the entire community necessarily involved.

"Thankfully it is just a perception because the PPP/C government does not discriminate against anyone or community," Rohee declared.

Aggressive posture

Rohee further stated that with the current aggressive posture of the law enforcement agencies, there was a view that the criminals were now taking their activities to the far-flung areas and the coastal waters - hijacking fishing boats. However, he said this was a theory, not necessarily a fact, noting that he would not want to overestimate or underestimate the capacity of the criminals to still act on the East Coast or in any other part of the country.

Rohee added that while the Joint Services efforts were being seen as a deterrent to criminal activities, the whole issue of crime fighting must be approached in a holistic manner.

Referring to the prevalence of several armed gangs prowling the country, Rohee said these would continue to operate until their members are caught and put in prison, or die during confrontations with lawmen. Criminal gangs, however, have not had difficulties in recruiting members after one would have perished.

"The saying that 'when one gunman dies another Rasta will take his place' is true, that is why we have to look at the issue holistically."

But he noted that consistency in the area of crime fighting was paramount. The minister also agreed that there was a nexus between crime and unemployment and in that light, he said, government's economic and social programmes must be taken into consideration as the overall approach to reduce crime. "So the phenomenon of gangs recruiting gunmen can only be addressed as we are trying to do, address the economic and social problems in the country by increasing the standard of living, facilitating growth in the economy, creating jobs and attracting foreign investments."

Rohee said that if government aggressively addressed these issues, then those who felt disadvantaged, marginalized and hopeless would see an improvement in their lives.

He said that as the social and economic fronts of the country develop, feelings of despair would diminish and people would be part of the mainstream of economic and social development of the country.

He noted though that even when there might be jobs available some people would still be hell bent on robbing and killing others. The minister also cited white-collar crimes, noting that these were usually committed by persons who were decently employed.

He said it did not necessarily follow at all times that joblessness led to crime, mentioning that years ago in Guyana there were many poor people, but there wasn't that level of crime in society. He believes that it was a combination of factors leading to the present chaos.

Unholy alliance

One factor that Rohee mentioned was what he called "an unholy alliance" between criminals and politicians. He repeated allegations made in the past there was a view that the criminal activities had a political agenda or were being handled by political masters. Rohee said whether that was true to this date was a matter for debate and maybe there should be a debate on it. "We did know that certain elements in the political opposition were in contact with some of the gangs in Buxton. We know that. We know there was a kind of an unholy political alliance, whether that is so today is another matter," Rohee said.

Asked what his government could do to discourage youth from crime, Rohee said that as they became involved in other activities, and their living conditions and livelihoods improved, the gangs that recruit them would not have the chance to do so. He said once there were jobs for young people, naturally they would want to go the fairer way in earning a livelihood rather running from the law for their entire life.

He acknowledged that the law enforcement agencies would need to go after the hardcore criminals who most times were the architects of the many gangs and also worked within the wider society and communities.

Wanted persons

Rohee noted that too often when a wanted man was killed his family would protest that he had been executed, yet they failed to encourage the man to turn himself over to the police.

"They have to co-operate too. They have to play a role too. It is better for them to call on these people in the gangs to surrender," the minister stressed.

He said this did not mean that the police would stop going after the wanted persons, as they could not wait on people to surrender. "But please, when there are shootouts and these criminals are killed we do not want to hear relatives complaining that the police should have treated them with kid gloves - these are criminals who have high-powered weapons," Rohee emphasized.