Two drown after bandits boat capsizes

-three Brazilians shot, millions stolen in daring mining camp raid

A suspected bandit and a hostage drowned Sunday in the Mazaruni River after a getaway boat capsized following a stunning raid by an armed gang on a Puruni mining camp, during which three Brazilians were shot and several other persons robbed and beaten.

Police in a press release yesterday said that during the robbery that occurred at around 7pm on Sunday, eight men armed with handguns stormed Piari Landing, Puruni; fired shots indiscriminately and wounded the three Brazilians in the process. Millions of dollars were stolen in the raid.

According to the police as the men approached, a number of shop owners and other persons fled into the bushes, but eight persons were however robbed of cash, raw gold and jewellery, and three of them were shot and injured. The perpetrators, police said, attempted to escape in a boat that they had stolen from Piari Landing.

The police stated that “Brazilian shopkeeper Joao De Freitas Mattos was shot to his right leg and robbed of $60,000.00 and; Brazilian shopkeeper Benedito Dourado Oliveira, 56 was shot to his right hip and robbed of $500,000 and a quantity of raw gold; Brazilian Francisco Da Cruz Morias, 44, was shot to his right thigh and left foot and robbed of $140,000; Brazilian Joao Da Conceicao, 56, was robbed of $30,000; Brazilian Mario Odessa Da Silva was robbed of jewellery and $500,000; Curtis Barnett, 34, was robbed of $110,000 and a cell phone”. All were treated at the Bartica Hospital, but Oliviera was transported to the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH), where he is now a patient awaiting surgery to have the bullet removed from his wound. Two others; David Coates and Carlton Small, who were both beaten about the body, were treated at the Bartica Hospital and sent away.

The release said that two men, who claimed that they were abducted and held hostage by the armed men as they were escaping, have been found by the police and are assisting with the investigations. A number of spent shells of varying calibres have been recovered by the police.

Police, in a subsequent release last evening, said that the bodies of two persons – who appeared to have drowned – have been recovered. The release continued that one of the bodies is that of a suspect while the other is that of a man who had been taken hostage by the perpetrators to pilot the getaway boat. The release added that information received revealed that while the boat was travelling along the Mazaruni River it overturned and several persons may have drowned, and there was no sign of the boat that was stolen by the armed men.

The release further stated that a team of police ranks, acting on information received, went into another area in the Mazaruni where they arrested three suspects and recovered an Uzi sub-machine gun and a handgun. Up to press time, police were still in the area pursuing three other suspects, while another man, who is suspected of having transported the armed men to the Piara Landing, has been arrested at Piara and taken into custody.

Speaking from his hospital bed, Oliviera told this newspaper that at around 6:30 pm he was in his shop at the point of closing the cupboard that contained his money, when five armed and masked men entered and demanded money from him. He said the men took all of the money from the cupboard, shot him on the inside of his right thigh and fled the scene. He also added that a bullet grazed his left hand, and the men also beat him in the head with their gun butts. Oliviera added that a Brazilian woman was grazed on the head by a bullet, while another was hit in the head with a hammer, and a Guyanese victim, he said, was shot in both legs. The men, he said, also robbed all the other shops along the Landing.

According to a source in the area, the raid took place along the Cuyuni-Puruni trail. The source said the men raided a shop and a dredge camp and fired shots at persons in their way, then attempted to escape in a boat with three Brazilian women and two Guyanese men as hostages. He went on to say that as the men did not know the river well, the boat hit a rock and capsized and its occupants went missing save for two of the bandits, who were reportedly stranded on the rock.

This is the second major robbery to have occurred in this area within recent weeks. About five weeks ago, 51-year-old Glendon Fredericks and his wife were attacked and robbed at their business in Puruni.

The man related that, he and his wife had just opened shop about two weeks prior to the incident. He said that at about 3 am, while he and his wife were asleep, three armed men entered and held them at gunpoint, demanding money from them.

Fredericks said that he blames the police for this recent attack because according to him, “if they had listened to my suggestion and go into the backdam to investigate none of this might have happened”.

Speaking with Stabroek News on the issue, Regional Chairman of Region 7 Holbert Knights stated that the general concern by him and the Bartica community as a whole is the fact that the police force is not adequately equipped to respond to situations like Sunday’s robbery in Puruni. “That’s the biggest handicap [in the system],” he said, while highlighting the fact that the police have no form of transportation from Itabali to anywhere in the interior in times of situations like these. He added too that there are vehicles available but they are not suitable to traverse the trails to the areas in question. In terms of communication he said a lot of people in the areas have satellite phones while some have internet cafés, and thus are able to make contact with the police when the need arises. It is understood, however, that on the night of the recent robbery victims were unable to contact the police, and this Knights explained could’ve been as a result of the time of night in which the incident occurred.

Knights, on behalf of the Bartica community and miners in the interior, called for a permanent mobile police presence in the mining areas, which would visit each site regularly. He is also called for better means of transportation for the ranks.

Efforts made to contact Crime Chief Seelall Persaud for comment on the matter were unsuccessful.

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