…illegal firearms entering porous borders – Police sourceBy Samuel SukhnandanA senior regional official from Mabaruma, Region One (Barima-Waini) has claimed that heavily armed gangs close to the Guyana-Venezuela border have been reportedly interfering with Guyanese who are engaged in fishing along the Amakuru River. This river links the two countries in the Region One.The official, who requested anonymity, told Guyana Times that there have been reports of pirates attacking Guyanese fishing boats along that border. He said while there is no confirmation, based on the statements taken from the affected Guyanese, these men may belong to large gangs in that country.These gang members have been described as ‘Merczateers’. The regional official said he strongly believes some Guyanese fishers may have ventured near the Venezuelan border, as the Police station had received reports of some fishing boats being stripped and robbed by pirates.“These men belonging to these gangs in Venezuela are heavily armed and poses a threat to Guyanese venturing close to the border separating the two countries,” a senior Police official said while explaining that a joint service operation in the area is needed and will be conducted in the near future.The Police said this operation will determine whether there is need to improve security along that area to prevent these incidents from happening, as it may pose a threat to the region and country’s security.However, the police official gave his commitment that everything necessary will be done to prevent the matter from escalating and ensuring the full protection of Guyanese fishers.Despite this, however, the officer did state that the border between Guyana and Venezuela in Region One is porous. The officer made this statement, in spite of there being a checkpoint along the border where a Police Inspector and his team are stationed to verify the goods entering these shores.Guyana Times also understands that illegal firearms have been entering Guyana through that same border. Another senior Police rank also revealed that they recently received a tip-off from members of the public, and based on investigations, several high-powered weapons were found at a residence.The officer said these weapons are believed to have originated from Venezuela. He noted that persons were recently charged for the offence of illegal possession of firearms and placed before the courts.This newspaper also understands that there have been other instances where illegal firearms were unearthed during Police operations and the weapons were illegally brought here from Venezuela.There have been previous reports of similar incidents along the Guyana-Venezuela border at other parts of the country. In July 2016 it was reported that a heavily armed gang of Spanish-speaking men terrorised Guyanese villagers in a Region 7 border village with Venezuela.It was indicated that the men, whom villagers say are Venezuelans, have been crossing the border committing robberies and extortion in the village of Arau. These gang members were also accused of taunting Army and law enforcement officials with high-powered weapons and grenades.Villagers in that region would have said that the gang is part of a “Venezuelan Syndicato” which operates as a rogue body in Venezuelan villages specialising in extortion. The gang carrying out the attacks has attempted to indulge in the same types of tactics on the Guyana side of the border.Villagers in Regions One and Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) said while incursions by Venezuelan criminal elements are not new, the nature of the attacks has become worse over recent times.Venezuela is experiencing the worst economic crisis in its history, with an inflation rate of over 400 per cent and a volatile exchange rate. Heavily in debt and with inflation soaring, its people continue to take to the streets in protest. There have also been huge shortages of food supplies.Besides that, Venezuela has long claimed a huge tract of land known as the Essequibo, which comprises nearly 40 per cent of Guyana’s current territory. The decades-old controversy was brought back into the spotlight following the discovery of oil in Guyana which led to Venezuela reiterating its land claims.Relations between Guyana and Venezuela have worsened ever since United States oil giant ExxonMobil announced in 2015 that it had found oil in Guyana. Venezuela has staunchly been against oil exploration in Guyana’s Stabroek Block, where multiple oil deposits were found by ExxonMobil.A high-level meeting was fixed between Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge and a Venezuelan delegation to discuss the border controversy in October this year. This was aimed at reaching a resolution through the Good Offices Process until the end of 2017.No resolution has been met since but Guyana has indicated that it is prepared to go to the International Court of Justice as the next means of settlement to the controversy.