Reeling from a spike in armed robberies in villages along the Corentyne Coast, some villagers have formed themselves into vigilante groups to patrol their communities at night.
During the recent Christmas season, residents of Numbers 49, 55, 56 and 57 villages suffered a series of stick-ups and home invasions, in which their families were traumatised and they lost millions of dollars in cash and property.
The vigilante groups would start patrolling from as early as 7 pm, ending in the wee hours of the morning. To date, at least one vigilante group has thwarted a robbery targeting a Number 55 Village home. Some members of the groups have said it is “very hard” to patrol and guard at night then go to work the next day. The villagers believe that it is the same group of men carrying out all the robberies and they hope they can be caught with the help of the police.
According to the residents, bandits would invade their homes from as early as 6 pm. Recently, between 6.30 and 7 pm, bandits had fired shots at a group of residents who had seen them lurking and had given chase. One resident said one of the escaping men had jumped into a waiting white Toyota Raum. Most of the victims have reported being attacked by a group of five masked men armed with three shotguns, knives, a cutlass and a claw bar.
Early in December, Ramlan Singh of Number 56 Village was roused from his sleep by someone shaking him and saying, “Daddy, wake up, we come for the money.”
Singh said as soon as he awoke, the bandits tied his hands behind his back then went into his wife’s room and woke her as well. The rice farmer said even after he gave them an undisclosed sum of cash and jewellery, the robbers continued to ask for more money. “Where is the chest with the millions?” he recalled them saying.
After the half-hour ordeal the men left as quietly as they had broken-in. “These men didn’t put on any lights, they used a torchlight they walked with,” he said. Singh said at daybreak he made a police report and at some point during the investigations, he was called and asked to view an Identification Parade. “I did not go for that because the men were masked and the place was dark… I do not know who robbed me,” he said.
On December 30, supermarket owners Dindyal and Chandanee Jagdeo were also robbed. The couple told this newspaper that around 11.30 pm, five men fitting the description given and armed with the same implements leapt over the veranda into their home while Dindyal and his grandson were watching television and his granddaughter was using her computer. The elderly man said he was given a cushion and told to hide his face, while one of the three who scaled the balcony opened the door to allow two others to enter.
The couple described a modus operandi (MO) similar to the robbery perpetrated against Singh, including rousing Chandanee from her bed to demand “gold and money” after her grandson had told them that the money was in the supermarket. The woman also lamented that unbeknownst to her, her son was in the shower at the time of the attack and the bandits fired a shot causing her to believe that they had killed him. The woman said after handing over an undisclosed sum of money, a quantity of phone cards, and gadgets including cellular phones and cameras, the men escaped by scaling the back fence of the house, firing off a number of shots as they did so.
The Jagdeos criticised police for their lax response. The elderly couple said when they called the Number 51 Police Station, the woman who answered the phone told them that they had the wrong number. They also said that neighbours who had called the police were told that the officers were out on patrol or that their vehicles were not working. They subsequently noticed a patrol vehicle passing and called out to them.
A Chinese family of Number 57 Village experienced a similar ordeal when bandits descended on them a few nights before Christmas. The couple, proprietors of the Jin Li Lai restaurant, said they were made to hand over an iPad, a quantity of new clothing and cash when the masked and armed men invaded their home aback of the restaurant. The couple said even after they had handed over the said items, the men harassed their children and beat their eldest son as they were not satisfied. “We work hard fuh we money and they come and take it away,” the victim said.
Meanwhile, two other victims of attempted break-ins related that the frequency of the incidents is very frightening. Devi Sugrim said a few nights before Christmas and on December 27, two attempts had been made on her home, one as early as 7 pm. The woman said her children are traumatised and so is she.
“At nights we cannot sleep or we sleep at neighbours’ homes just because we want to feel at ease and safe,” she said.
Overgrown brush and blackouts
Sugrim and one of her neighbours slammed the NDC for the overgrown brush in the area which provides shelter for thieves. The women said they pay to clean sections close to their dwellings but they cannot afford to do so frequently; the owners of the lands reside overseas.
A break-in at Number 55 Village was thwarted when a woman raised an alarm after she heard persons talking in her yard. The woman said her husband responded by making threatening noises with a cutlass and the thieves quickly escaped. However, a few days ago, she said she received a telephone call during which the caller threatened, “We are coming back.” This newspaper understands that on Wednesday night another attempt was made on the premises but the bandits escaped after vigilantes rushed to the home.
Kat, (only name given) an aquaculture farmer at Number 49 Village, said he and his son were accosted and tied up by bandits around 7.30 pm on December 20. As it neared 8 pm, they were taken to their homes and made to hand over about $800,000 and jewellery valued over $1 million. The man said no member of the family was brutalised, “all they did was ask for cash and the jewellery.”
Kat also said the thieves told him that they wanted the money he had withdrawn from the bank to buy a car. Further, the men related several other issues concerning his family which led him to believe that he had been set up.
Residents also complained bitterly about the frequent power outages in the area, noting that most of the robberies occurred during blackouts. They also said that there does not seem to be an effective communication mechanism in place for police and residents and further, that the lawmen seem always to have an excuse when reports are made. As a result, they are calling on the police and government to put systems in place that would help them to get back to normalcy.