Full investigation into Colombia aircraft, illegal airstrip discovery expected- Harmon

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The abandoned Beechcraft on the 5,400 foot airstrip, which were both discovered on Sunday

The Guyana Defence Force (GDF), the Guyana Police Force’s (GPF) Criminal Investigations Department (CID), the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU), the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and other related agencies, on Monday, conducted an initial assessment of a twin-engine Beechcraft aircraft, which was discovered in an area in Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo (Region Nine) on Sunday evening.

According to State Minister Joseph Harmon, this initial assessment is an effort to gather evidence that will assist in the investigation into the circumstances, which led to the aircraft being abandoned on an illegal airstrip.

Harmon declared that the Government expects a full investigation into this serious national security issue.

The discovery of this airstrip and aircraft follows the discovery of another illegal airstrip in Yurupukari, Region Nine in September 2015.

Investigations later revealed that the plane had originated in Colombia.

Guyana’s vast land and airspace makes the country vulnerable to transnational security threats. The Minister said that the Government is working with local and international partners to build capacity and strengthen security.

“The Government is extremely concerned.  We are concerned that that these aircrafts are utilising our large gaps in the security coverage in the hinterland areas, but we are looking carefully to see how we can have a proper coverage of those areas,” he said.

The State Minister also said that Government recognises that over a period of years, there are those who have taken advantage of the lack of adequate resources to properly monitor those areas. He added that the administration is taking this matter very seriously and is making every effort to better equip the security forces and strengthen their capacity to secure Guyana’s territory.

The interior of the abandoned Beechcraft

He also called on Guyanese citizens to play their part and to ensure that illegal activities, regardless of the location in which they take place, are reported to the relevant authorities.

“Guyanese are a part of the country’s national security apparatus. We would like to ask them to report any activity they may consider illegal. It is illegal for any aircraft to land or be in Guyana unless they have the permission of the Government and the GCAA. While we have large expanses of land in the Rupununi that can be used for airstrips, it is illegal to have these airstrips. We should see ourselves playing an important part in our country,” Minister Harmon said.

Commander of ‘F’ Division, Mr. Ravindradat Budhram, in an invited comment, said that the 5,400-foot long, 45-foot wide airstrip appeared to have undergone recent repairs. This strip had been discovered and destroyed by the GDF only a few years ago.  Furthermore, it is located approximately five miles from another illegal airstrip, which was discovered last week by a GDF patrol that was on a reconnaissance mission at the time.

According the Commander Budhram, having received information from an unnamed source that the airstrip was being used, investigating ranks visited the site and were leaving the area when they observed an aircraft circling some distance away. The aircraft landed while the ranks were making their way back to the airstrip. They reported that they saw some persons running into the bush.

Commander Budhram said that following the discovery of the plane an extensive search was mounted by a Joint Services team for the men, who had been observed fleeing.  That search continues.

The Divisional Commander, however, noted that a search of the area unearthed three abandoned camps, in which canned food and other items were found.  Additionally, 16 10-gallon containers, which are suspected to have contained aviation fuel, were also discovered.  During the search of the aircraft, several pieces of communication equipment, including cellular phones, flashlights, a quantity of dried ration, medical supplies and an identification card were discovered.

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