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Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 19:33 GMT 20:33 UK

World: Americas

Jamaican troops sent to crush gang war

Police and military are to stay on the streets until all guns are found

Troops have been deployed on the streets of Jamaica's capital Kingston, following a recent wave of violent crime which has claimed 34 lives in less than two weeks.

Jamaica has long suffered from a crime problem but this year, almost 500 people have been murdered .

[ image: The poor inner city communities are worst hit by the violence]
The poor inner city communities are worst hit by the violence
Many of the killings result from feuding between heavily-armed drug gangs.

At the weekly parliamentary sitting on Tuesday, Prime Minister PJ Patterson vowed that the troops that are now deployed in a number of troublespots would remain on the streets until all guns had been found.

As the violence gripped poor inner city communites, hundreds of people were forced to flee their homes.

Some found refuge with friends and relatives and others turned to the local police for safety.

The BBC's Jamaica correspondent Carol Orr: "At its height, the number of killings"
The BBC's correspondent in Jamaica said that at one stage in south Kingston, more than 150 residents set up make-shift camps in front of the local police station, fearful that gunmen would carry out their threat to kill innocent civilians.

After describing the current crisis as "a spate of criminal madness", Mr Patterson gave the military broad powers to find the gangs and confiscate their weapons.

Special Swat team

A special police Swat team is also being considered. But local residents fear that the presence of troops could lead to shoot outs between the gangs and the military.

Last week, the police imposed overnight curfews in the worst-hit areas.

This is not the first time this year the military has been drafted in to help maintain public order. In April, soldiers tackled violent demonstrations against government-ordered fuel price rises.

More controversially, they were sent into tourist resorts to try to reduce attacks on visitors.

[ image: Violence has been part of life in Jamaica for decades]
Violence has been part of life in Jamaica for decades
The roots of Kingston's violent culture can be traced back decades.

In the 1970s, residents were armed by the two main political parties, producing rival communities where armed gangs on the payroll of local politicians controlled certain streets.

A decade later, the gangs had turned their hands to smuggling cocaine and marijuana. This guaranteed them their own flow of cash and they no longer needed to stay in the pocket of the politicians.

Today, the ranks of the gangs are bolstered by poor young men from the countryside, who arrive in the capital in search of work.

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