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Fellow St. Lucians,

After the carnival is over and the Lenten season begins, a Christian society is usually expected to begin a process of reflection and recommitment. It is the quiet season where each of us seek to build upon our human strengths and address those weaknesses which afflict us throughout most of our lives.

As a community, Lent should be a period when we rededicate ourselves to finding the means whereby we can more properly live together, as one people. It should be a time for building, a time for strengthening our common bonds as a people.

But there are those among us, who instead see the Lenten season as a time to kill, a time to terrorize our peace-loving community and to play out their internal quarrels in our streets.

This state of affairs began with a killing on Wednesday, 4th March, of one Michael Alexander, also known as Gaboo, who was shot dead as he rode a bicycle along the Allan Bousquet Highway, in the vicinity of Balata. The killing was swift and professional and the killers made their escape through a nearby banana field. The killers were masked and the few eye witnesses could only provide the police with information on the numbers of persons involved, but not detailed descriptions.

Prior to this incident, the nation had been appalled by the cold-blooded assassination, in broad daylight, of one Adolphus Clarke, also known as Bonny, in the Mongiraud area. Notwithstanding the fact that the criminal trial in this matter effectively collapsed, the speedy action of the police in successfully identifying and apprehending the prime suspects, should not be forgotten.

Following the Gaboo killing, the police intelligence network was put into gear and reliable information has led the police to identifying Nicholas Joseph, also known as Nicky Dan, and Winette George, as the prime suspects. Nicholas Joseph or Nicky Dan, is already wanted by the police in connection with the shooting last year of Eustace Phillip also known as Pupa, in the Talvern area.

The police, acting on this information, and having appealed to the public for its assistance, began creating a dragnet to locate and apprehend the two wanted men. By Saturday, 7th March a number of sightings of one, or both of the men, were reported, as a very vigilant public, made every effort to assist our lawmen. Up to this point, notwithstanding the rumours about various hit lists, the police had the matter pretty much in hand as they were slowly, but surely, closing in on the two wanted men.

However, on Saturday, 7th March, a series of incidents exploded in a most disturbing fashion, further exacerbating the sense of alarm and grave concern among all of us. Firstly, it was reported that a motorist was robbed of his vehicle, in an ambush-style operation, by masked and well-armed men, in the Babonneau area. The links between the killing of Michael Alexander, some days earlier, and this ambush, could not be ignored.

Further, at approximately 11.30 that same night, two senior police officers in the Rodney Bay area, observed a white vehicle, which looked suspiciously like a vehicle known to the police to have been involved in a violent fracas, earlier that same day in another part of the City. Back-up was summoned from the Gros Islet Police Station and upon its arrival, the two senior officers and a constable from the Gros Islet Police Station, all armed, approached the vehicle.

As the officers approached the vehicle, it spun around in the road and at the same time, the occupants opened fire on the officers with some automatic weapons. The car then sped away, but not before the police had returned fire, shattering the rear windscreen and hitting the side of the car. When the police recovered the vehicle the following morning, bullet holes on the side of the car and bloodstains within it indicated, that at least one of its occupants, was hit by a bullet or bullets in the course of the exchange with the police.

On the positive side, the police were able to apprehend a number of persons that Saturday, and recovered four illegal firearms, including one adapted with some sort of laser pointer for greater accuracy. On the Chaussee during Saturday afternoon, a character well-known to the police and who carries the alias, Jah Mice@ was arrested along with one Ronald Richardson Jr. The two men carried very sophisticated automatic weapons and both wore bulletproof vests.

I have just given you a reasonably graphic description of some of the events which took place on that fateful Saturday, and which, along with the event of Wednesday 4th, have caused us all grave consternation and indeed, in some cases, fear. I have done so, so that you may get a more realistic picture of what the police officers of this country face from a small group of vicious and dangerous criminals.

But I do not wish to exaggerate the situation. The fact is, the people engaged in these dastardly acts are small in number and all of their acts are directed against each other. Indeed, the police have assured me that the shootings which have taken place in the last few months are all linked to this small group of persons, allegedly engaged in the illegal drugs trade. In short, I want you to rest assured that this is not some widespread national crime wave assaulting any and every person in our community. In its essence, this is a struggle among rival gangs, each determined, it would seem, to wipe out the other, either as an act of revenge or in order to secure control of the illegal drugs trade.

I must, at this point, refer to one further matter. The nation was startled on Monday of this week when a student savagely attacked the Principal of the Vieux Fort Comprehensive Secondary School, Dr. Morella Joseph. We share the pain that Dr. Joseph is experiencing now and the trauma that the teachers of the Vieux Fort Comprehensive and indeed teachers of all schools, have suffered over this incident. It is a mark of the deep humanity of the teacher and of Dr. Joseph's own deep Christian character that, when she was visited last night at the hospital, even while she was visibly in pain, she expressed some concern about the future life chances of the student who had attacked her. We must emulate her spirit of compassion and courage and not allow this incident to create distrust between teacher and student.

Let me deal with a question which I am sure has troubled and is continuing to trouble all of your minds, viz., how did St. Lucia, such a peace-loving country, arrive at this sorry stage?

For many years, the people of this country have seen the illegal drugs trade grow and spread, from urban ghetto to rural farmlands, from middle class housing developments to upper class mansions, and nothing significant was done to stop that growth. We heard talk of known crack houses in the City, of a known big businessmen involved in the trade, but no action was taken to bring them to justice.

When the gangs began flourishing and the Chaussee shootings began, shootings that are immortalized in the 1996 Calypso Boom By By, the response was tepid, irregular and largely ineffective.

During that time the leadership of the Royal St. Lucia Police Force was weak, indecisive and, it is alleged, compromised. While the drug barons grew bolder and richer, and the gangs grew larger and their weaponry got more sophisticated, the police force on the other hand was allowed to wither. Denied of adequate numbers of vehicles, they were often prevented from responding to calls from the public. Starved of adequate manpower, there was often nobody to detail to deal with crucial situations. As a result, the force grew dispirited, demoralized and ineffective . . . and the drug barons knew that. As a result also, it cannot be denied that the element of corruption within the police force, developed strongly during that period, to the extent where, prima facie evidence suggests police may have been involved in protecting certain drug concerns.

This last matter will, I assure you, be properly dealt with, in the course of our reform of the police service.

Our country, therefore, arrived at a situation, where on the one hand we had a weak and demoralized rank and file and an ineffective and fractions leadership in our police service, and on the other hand, we had well armed, ruthless and criminally minded gangs, bent on developing the drugs trade and enriching themselves at the country's expense. Now, it would appear that the chickens are coming home to roost.

The several incidents of violence and indiscipline that have manifested themselves in the schools over the past few weeks, are a mirror reflection of the general disorder that exists in the wider society. Unacceptable levels of crime in society, are inseparable from the emergence of indiscipline in the schools, the breakdown of the home and the absence of personal values. What is needed is an all-out war on drugs, on indiscipline and on violence.

This Government is determined that the nefarious drugs trade, and the guns and shootings associated with it, shall cease to terrorize law-abiding citizens of St. Lucia. Recent events have sent the chilling message, that as long as these drugs criminals remain free within our community, we will always be exposed to the kinds of crime we have witnessed in this country in the recent past. As a member of my Cabinet is fond of saying, enough is enough.

I want to inform you of the various measures which this Government has put, and is putting in place, to strengthen the capacity of our law enforcement agencies to combat criminal activity in our country.

Firstly, I have authorized the acquisition of a number of additional vehicles for the use of the police to increase their capacity to respond to criminal activity. These vehicles will be made available to both the northern and southern divisions of the police service. It is my fervent hope that once these vehicles are in the service of the police, no member of the public who contacts the police, for necessary assistance will have to be told that assistance is not possible because a vehicle is not available.

Secondly, negotiations which have been ongoing for the last few weeks have now been concluded, and this week, an order was placed for 24 new motor cycles for the St. Lucia Police Service. These motor cycles come fully equipped with radar facilities and sophisticated communications systems. These will be used actively in the fight against all types of crime.

Thirdly, in two weeks time, approximately 50 new police recruits will formally become police constables. These much needed officers will enable the Commissioner to relieve more senior, experienced and highly trained officers, from routine duties and relocate them to strategic crime fighting areas.

Fourthly, recruitment has already begun for another batch of fifty (50) recruits to undergo training to become police officers. It is our expectation that by June this year, 100 new police officers would have entered the ranks of the police service.

Fifth, a review of the Bail Act is right now taking place and we shall seek to ensure, through any necessary amendments, that persons who are charged with offences involving or who are found in possession of illegal guns, are not able to easily obtain bail. The ambit of the discretionary power of judicial officers, especially magistrates, in this regard will be narrowed. It is ludicrous that persons who are charged with offences involving illegal firearms are back out on the streets in a day or two, with more illegal firearms at their disposal, after having been bailed for a mere $1,500.00.

Sixth, the Honourable Attorney General will shortly be presenting to Cabinet, proposals for the fast-tracking of trials of offences where illegal weapons are used. Government is prepared to consider, after all appropriate discussion, the establishment of a mechanism dedicated to hearing gun-related offences, to ensure that these cases do not remain stuck in the backlog of cases currently before our magistrates courts and high court. It is our desire, that all offences involving guns are tried as speedily as possible so that the perpetrators of the kinds of crimes we have witnessed these last few days, will be speedily put away, in accordance with the law.

Finally, we are all aware that there has been a number of killings in this country over the last few years, for which no one has been brought to account. The Murders of Adolphus Bonny Clarke and Michael Gaboo Alexander, are only two of the most publicised ones. I have grave difficulty accepting that in this small community of ours, there are no persons with information relating to these killings, which can assist the police. Consistent with this belief, therefore, and in order to encourage any person who may have information relating to these killings, to come forward and assist the law, I have directed the Commissioner of Police, to immediately prepare to offer a significant reward to any person or persons, coming forward with information which leads to the resolution of these crimes. The details of this offer of a reward will be announced by the Commissioner of Police, shortly.

These are the short to medium term measures which will strengthen law enforcement in this country and put those who would wish to commit serious crime under severe pressure. Immediately, however, Government has resolved, after discussions between the relevant ministers and the police leadership, to take the fight to the gangs, who seem bent on disrupting our daily lives with their shootings.

The police has spent the last few days collecting intelligence and preparing themselves. The time is now right for a resolute and decisive answer to those responsible for last week's events.

Commencing today, and continuing until it has obtained its operational objectives, the police will undertake a firm and sustained operation to secure our streets and rid our communities of this distasteful behaviour. The actions to be taken by the police will be numerous, varied and the operation will take place at different levels and throughout the country. Operation Restore Peace, will use all lawful means to bring an end to the type of criminal action we witnessed last week, and to apprehend the perpetrators thereof.

I have made it clear to the Commissioner and the heads of the Operation that while the rights of innocent parties must be respected, the police should be prepared to act resolutely against those who are involved, those who assist the main perpetrators and any person or persons who hinder, or attempt to obstruct the success of this operation. This Government will stand firmly behind the police, in all their lawful actions in this matter.

I wish to call upon you, the good people of this country, to join hands with your Government and the police so that we make this, one fight, one people united against crime, against drugs and against guns. Some of the actions of the police will cause us some inconvenience and discomfort, but I implore you to bear the inconvenience and discomfort for the sake of the peace of our country. In order to do so, we must take certain steps and we must all accommodate certain discomforts, while we achieve our common goals.

To those of you, the criminals, who have inflicted the pain of the last few days on the people of this country, I promise you a tougher time than you ever imagined possible. The net will be stretched around you, and slowly but surely, close in to trap you and terminate once and for all your unlawful activities. I promise, you can run but you surely cannot hide. In the coming days, weeks and if necessary, months, you shall find no hiding place in this our beloved country, until peace is returned to our native land.

Brothers and sisters we are facing a sore which has been left unattended for too long, it has become infected, it has grown septic and it is now threatening our body. We must take all necessary steps to cauterize this sore and heal the body. With your help the police can do it, and soon, when Operation Restore Peace has achieved its objectives we will remove the shackles of our fear of violent crime which we have carried these last few days.

The criminals may have started the battle but I assure you law and order will surely end the war.

My brothers and sisters, rest peacefully.

Thank you and may God bless Saint Lucia.


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