Gunmen kill 11 in village massacre

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Guyana deployed hundreds of soldiers and police in villages near where rampaging gunmen killed 11 people, including five children, and authorities yesterday launched a manhunt for the gang leader they blame for the slaughter.

Security forces with high-powered rifles searched the forests surrounding Lusignan for gang members following Saturday's attack, in which gunmen stormed the coastal village apparently because their leader was enraged by the abduction of his pregnant girlfriend.

Officials say Rondell Rawlins, the nation's most-wanted fugitive, has accused security forces of abducting his 18-year-old girlfriend and has threatened to launch attacks until she is found. Officials haven't responded to his accustion.

It was unclear why the gunmen chose Lusignan, which includes a central village of whitewashed wooden homes and outlying gated estates fringed by the South American country's largest golf course.

In the neighboring village of Mon Repos, President Bharrat Jagdeo met with a thousand angry residents who demanded guns to form community policing groups to counter the government's seeming inability to stem gang violence.

"It is better to die trying to protect the village in the streets than to die hiding beneath your bed," said Sharmila Ramcharran, a mother of five.

Villagers also petitioned Jagdeo to bulldoze several kilometers (miles) of woodlands abutting the restive settlements so heavily armed fugitives would not have a place to hide.

"We are giving the president one week to catch the bandits or we are going back on the streets," Jai Persaud, a 44-year-old carpenter, said in the school building where villagers met with Jagdeo.

Guyana's president called on the United States and other developed nations to provide more aid to the impoverished nation's security forces. Its roughly 3,000 police officers and 2,000 soldiers are ill-equipped to handle the threat posed by increasingly brazen gangs, he said.

"Even if we put police and soldiers in every village, we'd only be able to cover 10 percent of them. The other 90 percent would be very vulnerable," Jagdeo told the crowd, who shouted out criticisms and questions.

Police have offered a US$150,000 (€102,000) reward for information that could lead to Rawlins. There have been no arrests.

Col. Bruce Lovell, an army spokesman, said the military had rushed hundreds of troops from other bases around the South American country of 770,000 inhabitants to capture Rawlins.

"We have received reports about numerous sightings but nothing has been confirmed," Lovell told reporters.

Authorities say Rawlins has been a gang leader since 2002. He is suspected of involvement in the April 2006 slaying of Agriculture Minister Satyadeo Sawh — a murder that authorities said was aimed at destabilizing this former British and Dutch colony — but is also wanted in connection with armed robberies, carjackings and the killings of two police officers.

Guyana, on the northern coast of South America, is known to many abroad as the site of Jonestown, where American cult leader Jim Jones exhorted his followers to drink cyanide-laced grape punch in 1978, leaving 912 of his followers dead.