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Guyana's gang warfare has deep roots

June 15, 2008 |  1:01 pm

The Miami Herald today explores the background of the shoot-out between a fugitive gang and government forces in southern Guyana earlier this month. According to the paper, the feud dates back several years ago, to when the government began using vigilante "death squads" to crack down on surging crime.

It was the closest authorities have come to capturing gang leader Rondell Rawlins, who they say has been waging a campaign of terror since January in this small English-speaking South American nation. The Rawlins gang is believed to have attacked two villages and three police stations, killing 23 people, including women, children and police officers, and stolen a cache of weapons and raw gold mined from the interior.

In its most immediate form, this conflict started as a blood-feud: Rawlins accused government agents of kidnapping his pregnant 18-year-old girlfriend and vowed violence if she wasn't returned.

But the roots of the problem go back years to unresolved allegations that the government was complicit in aiding or even creating what are known locally as ''phantom death squads.'' These are gangs of vigilante assassins, formed in response to a crime wave that began in 2002.

Read on....

-- Reed Johnson in Mexico City

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