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Caricom unfolds crime-fight plan

By Rickey Singh Observer Caribbean correspondent

Monday, April 07, 2008    

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"We are coming after you." That is the clear and firm message from Caribbean Community governments to the criminals and their networks engaged in murders, kidnappings for ransom, armed robberies, drug-trafficking and gun-running.

To arrest the upsurge in violent criminality, including brutal killings of the innocent and serious threats to the rule of law environment, Caricom leaders have finally come forward with a united plan of action.

They unfolded their promised new "strategy and action plan" Saturday evening at the close of their "special summit on crime and security" at the Trinidad Hilton Hotel in Port-of-Spain that covers wide-ranging decisions, including:

. New regional initiatives on intelligence-gathering and sharing; legislation on wire-tapping and protection of witnesses;

. Introduction of specially-trained and equipped teams to deal specifically with murder; introduction of videos in criminal proceedings, inclusive of identification parades; and maximised use of new technologies to deal with cross-border crimes in arms and drug-trafficking; and

. Consideration of appropriate arrangements for the creation of a Rapid Deployment Regional Joint Force to deal with emergencies as part of the new 'strategy and action plan' to crack down on violent criminality and enhance national/regional security.

The Hilton Summit highlighted a mood of zero-tolerance for the criminal forces that have seriously undermined the reputation of the region with unflattering rates in murder, kidnappings and armed robberies.

Hosted and chaired by Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who holds lead responsibility in Caricom for crime and security matters, the summit was preceded by a series of preparatory meetings that involved police and army chiefs, top civil servants and ministers responsible for national security and law enforcement.

Having first "fully ventilated the crime and security issues facing the region", the Caricom leaders focused on concrete initiatives to be pursued with urgency and in unison, while the Community Secretariat facilitates the conduct of a region-wide "information campaign" against the crime situation that has reached epidemic proportions in some territories.

The leaders agreed to sign at their forthcoming annual summit in St John's, Antigua in July, a Maritime and Airspace Security Co-operation Agreement and a Caricom Arrest Warrant Treaty.

The regional grouping also agreed to:

. Formulate a strategy for information sharing on procurement of assets among military and law enforcement entities in member states;

. Develop a regional database to serve a policy on illegal firearms. It will be accessible by all law enforcement agencies and help to increase their capacity of detection and surveillance methods in relation to the movement of firearms, including importation, sale, transfer, theft and use;

. Increase the capability and co-ordination among law enforcement agencies to develop intelligence to conduct operations;

. The establishment and training of counter-kidnapping units comprising response teams and hostage negotiators; increased use of technology and intelligence to monitor and target individuals and gangs engaged in this criminal practice;

. Initiatives to deal with the problem of Caricom nationals deported to their respective homeland for crimes committed in foreign countries, mainly the USA, United Kingdom and Canada; and

. Pursue negotiations of standardised agreements with those three nations to provide for adequate notification periods prior to deportation as well as settlement of personal affairs of long-term residents and complete dossiers, including criminal antecedents and medical records.

The proposals also include appropriate arrangements to reduce the financial burden on deported Caribbean nationals and their receiving countries and support for programmes designed to aid the rehabilitation and reintegration of such deportees.

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