COMMON PURPOSE: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs Liliana Ayalde, second from right, shakes hands with Francis Forbes, right, executive director of Caricom's Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), following the launch of the US Assistance to Combat Arms Trafficking in the Caribbean yesterday at Caricom IMPACS headquarters in Port of Spain. Standing with Ayalde are Deputy Assistant Director of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives John Torres, left, and Bahamas National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

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...US$3.4m to tackle arms trafficking

THE United States will be providing US$3.43 million for a programme to combat illicit trafficking in firearms in the Caribbean, which will include forensic training and officer exchange programmes.

The programme, part of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, was launched yesterday at the headquarters of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) in Port of Spain. It is being spearheaded by the US Department of State and the US Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

ATF deputy assistant director John Torres said his bureau "will bring our expertise and assist those in this country and in the area to maintain citizen safety throughout this initiative".

He listed the five initiatives of the ATF strategy:

— conduct assessment of the scope of the regional

trafficking problem in 17 nations "facing the most significant issues";

— establish a forensic training programme and "explore the feasibility of a Caribbean forensic academy";

— provide expert legal assistance to ensure nations have established an effective anti-trafficking programme for small arms;

— provide two "regional firearms advisors" in the Caribbean to render on-site assistance; and

— exchange programme.

Torres explained the exchange programme will permit law enforcement officials to work for short intervals in the US.

"I've been doing this for 28 years now and I think one of the most important things in partnerships...is that we can share what we've learned with our law enforcement partners. I think that is one of the most important things we can bring to the table," he said.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Mervyn Richardson, who was in attendance at the ceremony, said the initiatives were welcome and the Police Service "will make maximum use" of them.

Questioned about the initiative impacting local crime-fighting, he told the media there were a lot of illegal firearms coming into this country and the region and the ATF was assisting with "stemming that flow". He pointed out that the weapon of choice for homicides locally is the gun.

"So that if we could stop the inward flow we could see then (it would) further reduce the crime rate in Trinidad and Tobago," he said.

"It's a win-win situation. We will stop the guns from coming in and it will lessen our homicide rate."

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the US Department of State, Liliana Ayalde noted the Association of Caribbean Police Chiefs last year estimated that there were 1.6 million illegal guns circulating in the region.

She explained the initiative was to "increase the capabilities of the Caribbean law enforcement and prevention institution throughout the Caribbean to fight gun trafficking".

"We must all work energetically to curb the illicit trade in firearms and collectively redouble our commitment to this important task," she said.

The initiative is funded by the US Department of State's Export Control and Related Border Security and is in collaboration with all members of Caricom and the Dominican Republic.

Torres pointed out that the ATF partnership with Caricom was another "concrete example of our growing collaboration".

"Whatever it takes to make the citizens of this area safer we will do it," he said.

Today marks the second and final day of the Third Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue in Port of Spain. —Julien Neaves

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