Thursday 24th November, 2005

 

Crackdown on Illegal Quarrying

Jamaat men charged

 
 
 
 
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An army truck with soldiers makes its way through Valencia after a joint raid with police of 11 quarries in east Trinidad yesterday.

Photo: Keith Matthews

BY ROBERT ALONZO

Twelve men who police believe are members of the Jamaat al Muslimeen were arrested yesterday after a contingent of law enforcement officers swooped down on illegal quarrying in the Valencia forest, seizing excavators, bulldozers and other heavy equipment.

Police said they raided 11 quarries, nine of which they claim are connected to the Jamaat al Muslimeen.

The 12 men were charged last night with mining without a licence. Eight are expected to appear in the Arima Magistrates Court today, while the others are due to appear in the Sangre Grande District Court on similar charges.

There have been reports for almost three years that men purporting to be Muslimeen members were involved in illegal quarrying in the Tapana Forest.

But last night, Annisa Abu Bakr, wife of imprisoned Jamaat leader Yasin Abu Bakr, said in an interview that her husband has had a valid quarry licence since the 1970s to operate in Valencia, though not where the raids took place. She said the people who were held in yesterday’s exercise were not Jamaat members.

Annisa, Bakr’s first wife, said: “My husband has a lease for quarry facilities in Valencia but not where those people were arrested. He has the lease to operate since in the 1970s, and he pays his taxes and owes nothing on it.”

Annisa said she was unaware of the details of her husband’s quarry operations.

Acting imam of the Jamaat Kala Akii Bua said in an interview that those arrested did not belong to his sect. He denied his organisation was involved in illegal quarrying.

Akii Bua said the latest move was an attempt by the Government to keep Bakr, his leader, “out of the system for a while.”

He said, “The Jamaat has not been doing any quarrying; that is not our concern.”

Akii Bua’s sentiments were echoed by Khalil Saif, another top-ranking Jamaat member. He said none of the arrested people were Jamaat members. He also believes his organisation was being set up by certain politicians.

Police sources said soldiers and police officers from the Inter Agency Task Force and the Special Anti-Crime Unit, supported by other divisions in army trucks, left Port-of-Spain for Valencia in convoy style early yesterday.

A senior officer said the clampdown on the illegal quarrying in Valencia had a been a burning issue that authorities wanted to tackle for some time.

He said there were reports that those involved in the illegal act were pocketing millions of dollars through their indiscriminate activities, and that authorities were turning a blind eye on the act.

There was also a report that illegal quarry operators were raking in approximately $180,000 a week.

A police spokesman said on arrival in Valencia heavily-armed soldiers and police officers surrounded the area, bringing work at the quarries to a halt. Those found on the sites were questioned and taken into custody as law officers began to remove heavy equipment.

Police said several bulldozers, tractors, excavators and other heavy machinery were seized and taken to Camp Cumuto pending further investigations.

Officers said security would be beefed up at the Arima and Sangre Grande magistrates court today when the 12 people appear to answer the charges.

 

 

 

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