LUSIGNAN, Guyana – Hundreds of Guyanese soldiers and police took up positions around a bullet-shattered coastal village on Sunday, a day after rampaging gunmen killed 11 people, including five children.
Most inhabitants of Lusignan huddled in their homes as security forces fanned through the area and cleared roads of smoldering debris left by angry protesters after the daring Saturday attack, blamed on a notorious gang leader.
Government officials say they suspect Rondell Rawlins is behind the violence. The gang leader has accused security forces of kidnapping his pregnant 18-year-old girlfriend and authorities said he had threatened to carry out attacks until she is found. Officials have not responded to Rawlins' accusation.
In the neighboring village of Mon Repos, President Bharrat Jagdeo met with a thousand angry residents who demanded guns to form community policing groups to counter the government's seeming inability to stem gang violence in the settlements east of Georgetown, the capital.
"It is better to die trying to protect the village in the streets than to die hiding beneath your bed," said Sharmila Ramcharran, a mother of five.
Villagers also petitioned Jagdeo to bulldoze several miles of woodlands abutting the restive settlements so heavily-armed fugitives would not have a place to hide.
"We need to keep vigilant in our district," Jai Persaud, a 44-year-old carpenter, told The Associated Press in the school building where villagers met with Jagdeo. "We are giving the president one week to catch the bandits or we are going back on the streets."
It was unclear why the gunmen chose Lusignan, a town of whitewashed wooden homes where many of the men are usually away working to support their families.
The Saturday slayings came hours after gunmen attacked police headquarters in the capital, firing indiscriminately and wounding two guards.
Police have offered a $150,000 reward for information that could lead to Rawlins. There have been no arrests.
Authorities say Rawlins has been a gang leader since 2002. He is suspected of involvement in the April 2006 slaying of Agriculture Minister Satyadeo
Sawh — a murder that authorities said was aimed at destabilizing this former British and Dutch colony.
Guyana, on the northern coast of South America, is known to many abroad as the site of Jonestown, where American cult leader Jim Jones exhorted his followers to drink cyanide-laced grape punch in 1978, leaving 912 of his followers dead.