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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 September, 2004, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Spanish Town new 'murder capital'
Jamaican army
There have been calls for the military to step in
Intense gang violence has earned the Jamaican city of Spanish Town the dubious honour of becoming the country's new "murder capital".

The killings reached their highest point in August, averaging four murders every day, much of it blamed on tit-for-tat encounters between rival gangs.

Spanish Town's mayor, Raymoth Notice, who has called for the army to be brought in to deal with the situation, has warned that the city will shortly be devoid of young men aged 18-28.

The spiral of violence is blamed in part on the drug trade - Jamaica is the crucial stop-off point between South America and the West - but is also fuelled by poverty.

"There are no working opportunities for persons, there are no infrastructure developments taking place," Dr Notice told BBC World Service's Analysis programme.

"You have criminal elements taking over. It is not that people are randomly gunned down - it is between rival factions."

'Wide open' ports

Only 50% of murders are solved in Jamaica, where this year the homicide rate is expected to top the 2001 record of 1,100. There is little trust in the police.

Sometimes it is the murder of a relative that draws people into gangs - thus perpetuating the cycle of violence.

One gang member, Diego, said that he had joined a gang seeking revenge after his cousin was robbed by local gangsters.

Effects of violence in Spanish Town
New murder capital of Jamaica
Trade down 30%
Community "devoid of men" aged 18-28
Guns widespread among children as young as 11
But he also said that part of the attraction is that gang work offers one "respect" - and a means of making a living.

"It's not that I love being a gangster, but I can't get any work."

Diego also explained how easy it is to get hold of a gun. Another gang member, Brick - only 16 - said that he had seen guns given out to 11-year-olds.

Dr Notice said he believed most of the guns were smuggled in illegally.

"Guns are sent - in parts - in car tyres, in various vehicles, in packets of rice or cornflakes.

"Most of the time, they are done so by persons who are very wealthy."

The gun trade goes hand in hand with the international drug trade, coming in from South America with the narcotics.

George Williams - assistant commissioner in charge of investigating crime operations in Jamaica - pointed out that the island itself has no firearms manufacturers.

"We also have a problem with guns coming in from the United States by various means.

"The ports of Jamaica are wide open."

Talking through problems

Meanwhile, mediators initially working on preventing domestic disputes becoming violent have been helping to reduce tensions between Jamaican gangs.

Jamaican woman protests about killings in 2001
The murder rate looks set to surpass the record figures in 2001

In Kingston's inner-city community of Trenchtown, specially-trained mediators have been helping calm disputes.

They try to get the gangs to resolve their differences by talking - rather than shooting.

"I was the one who mediated between two sides of gangs, on a mutual ground," mediator Vivian McLean told Analysis. "They talked out and solved their problem.

"They accepted what had happened, who had done what, and moved on."




SEE ALSO:
Jamaican murders at record high
17 Aug 04  |  Americas
Jamaican gay activist murdered
10 Jun 04  |  Americas
Country profile: Jamaica
26 Jun 04  |  Country profiles


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