The Defence Force and other state agencies yesterday confiscated copper and cleaned up Beetham Estate's scrap iron businesses following information that guns are being hidden in the scrap iron and are also being manufactured from the iron. However, the security forces' move into the Beetham at 6 am to undertake the exercise, brought loud complaints from the area's scrap metal dealers and residents. Laventille East/Morvant MP Donna Cox and PNM Senator Fitzgerald Hinds were on the scene assisting the five-plus scrap iron businessmen who claimed they had licences for their operations.
The businessmen are claiming the loss of thousands of dollars worth of material confiscated by soldiers. Residents, including the businessmen, stood around fuming about the exercise and their setbacks. MP Cox said: "A large contingent of soldiers came to Beetham with Works Ministry trucks around 6 am and cleared the scrap iron off the highway verges. Captain Hill, who was in charge, told me he was told he could also clear 20 feet inside the district as it is state land." Cox said Hill told her he was instructed to do this. Works Minister Jack Warner and his adviser Francis Joseph didn't respond to calls from T&T Guardian yesterday.
However, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan at yesterday's daily media briefing said the Government had credible intelligence on the scrap iron situation. He said scrap iron dealers would be compensated for their possessions once they had valid licences for this. Ramlogan said there were also other areas apart from Beetham where scrap iron piles would be cleared. Other state security officials explained that information received confirmed the iron was being used to make guns and that guns were often hidden in the piles of scrap iron to avoid detection.
They said: "This is a high priority situation in the crime clean-up. There's also information that there are arrangements in league with machine shops to make guns from this scrap iron." Kedell Montrose, one affected Beetham scrap iron dealer, told TG after his scrap iron material was lost: "Soldiers come here minutes to 6 am and start taking everything without warning. The captain say Government own 20 feet from the highway so they clearing it. "They give we no warning. I is 30 years old. I lose about $90,000 worth of material."
John Rennie, who said he lost more than $30,000 worth of items, declared: "This just unjust! They say they trying to solve crime but this will add to crime because people now out of work. We employ people, too. Most of the youth men and dem making a little dollar. "What we going to do? We can't leave we house after curfew. We looking for an honest living and they taking it away. I can't understand how people in Caroni and everywhere have containers all round dem area but dem ent doing them nothing. This whole thing like it based on politics. They know Beetham is PNM."
Rennie added: "Even if we sue, is a state of emergency and we have no rights, people say, so we have to take what they dishing out. But if you put people out of work they won't solve crime." Debra Montrose, mother of businessman Montrose, added: "Everything gone down the drain! They could at least give us notice to salvage a few things, but since 6 am they here." "It really too hard in truth! They don't want the boys and them to thief yet they can't do they business and they have people working for them. People on the breadline...it really hard for black people in this country right now! I don't know what going on."
Cox said: "It seems they're not only clearing up crime, but the scrap iron also. But since people have legitimate business, we wanted to know what will happen to the confiscated material. "Hill said it would be stored at Ispatt compound. I want to know if this exercise is being done at similar sites all over T&T or just here (Beetham)." PNM's Hinds said he had asked Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs for word on the material removed from the businessmen since they had legitimate businesses. Hinds said the CoP said he would examine the situation.
Hinds added: "People feel discriminated against obviously. I'd advise residents to seek legal redress. Recently Government indicated scrap metal sites were unsightly, but we're amazed they'd use the state of emergency to tackle this."