Dressed to kill

Stabroek News
April 10, 2000

In less than two months the police and army engaged two notorious wanted men in bloody exchanges with deadly consequences. Both of these incidents bared for all to see how vulnerable our law enforcers are in these confrontations.

The first was the Eccles siege in which dozens of policemen and soldiers bristling with weaponry were unable to flush out Linden `Blackie' London for hours on end while saturating the guest house he occupied with bullets, grenades, anti-tank weapons and fire. At the end of it all, London was dead and three law enforcers injured including a brave soldier who has since lost one of his eyes. The results could hardly have been welcomed by those who would argue that a surgical strike would have neutralised London long before Eccles became a battlefield during the 11-hour stand-off.

Then last month, Hilton `Chammar' Rodrigues, who had been wanted for a number of brutal murders was killed in a shoot-out with the police. Ambushed, `Chammar' opened fire when called upon to surrender and fatally shot Constable Allan Higgins once in the head before he himself was cut down. The police paid a very high price in this ambush.

The signs are there for all to see. The proliferation of high- powered weapons in all parts of this country has spawned new classes of criminals who not only plan the most diabolical of schemes but execute them dressed to kill. And who are the targets? None other than our underpaid and ill-equipped policemen and soldiers.

The killing of Constable Higgins and the spine-tingling exhibition of firepower by London at Eccles must have awakened both the government and police to the realisation that it is foolhardy and dangerous to match weapons with desperados like `Blackie' and `Chammar'. This can only be a secondary line of defence.

A major campaign is required to confiscate the large numbers of guns, grenades and ammunition together with more sophisticated weaponry like rocket launchers floating around.

Such a scheme should be initiated by the government this year to snare as much of the illegal cache as possible. The odd raid might yield one or two weapons but will not make a significant impact on the large stashes. Measures such as amnesties and the purchase at a nominal price of the weapons turned in should be implemented to reduce the numbers of illegal guns in the country.

This on its own will not achieve the goal of reducing the weapons threat to ordinary Guyanese and the country's law enforcers. It must be accompanied by a concerted effort to properly police our borders along with a diplomatic offensive to get neighbouring governments to help curtail the trafficking in arms across our frontiers. The various joint commissions established with our neighbours should have this item vaulted to the top of their agendas and the ministries of home affairs and foreign affairs should work closely together in this regard.

Additionally, efforts to choke off the illegal supply of guns and ammunition must be located in legislative deterrents. The offence of gunrunning must be entered into the law books soonest under a new section. No longer can these offences be treated with under the Customs Act. They must be matched with the harshest penalties and this must be a legislative priority of the Home Affairs Ministry this year. The fiasco surrounding the light sentence on Nandkumar Budhan for gun offences revealed the stark inadequacy of charges under the Customs Act and it will be irresponsible of the government to ignore the pressing need to remedy this situation.

The government and the police can be sure of one thing. In the criminal equivalent of the primordial soup there are many `Blackie's' and many `Chammar's' and enough guns and ammunition to go around. This dangerous mix will inevitably yield explosive, fatal results if not defused.