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Transport Minister meets with residents near CJIA airport, others protest outside

Several Timehri airport area residents picket a meeting held by Transport Minister Robeson Benn with other residents about a planned relocation exercise.

Residents close to a “critical area” for the extension of the runway at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) were Wednesday encouraged by a team of senior government officials to relocate to Yarrowkabra but no time frame has been set, according to a source.

At least 60 households- an estimated 200 persons- would have to remove to Yarrowkabra where housing lands have been identified, the source said. China Harbour Engineering (CHEC) has been contracted to extend the 7,400 feet long runway by another 2,200 feet. Officials said that this is part of a plan to make Guyana a hub and also attract larger aircraft like those being operated by Jet Blue.

An official said Wednesday’s meeting was not to give residents an ultimatum but instead to collect vital data including whether they had applied for houselots before.

However, the talks about the planned removal of the residents did not go down well with many others. As Transport Minister Robeson Benn was Wednesday afternoon locked in a meeting with several residents who live near the CJIA t, several others were outside the venue protesting their exclusion.

Representatives of the media were among those not invited to the meeting being held at the CJIA Works Branch.

Under the banner of the Timehri North Citizens Development Committee (TNCDC), the more than 100 persons picketed and chanted slogans. They included “Timehri North demands equal rights for justice” and “This is a Housing matter, not Public Works,” “We are organised, we are mobilized, we are recognised, we will not compromise,” and “This is a housing matter, we deal with the Housing Ministry.”

The residents flocked the gates of the Airport Works Branch Department of the CJIA around 2 PM where the meeting was called as police officers stood guard at the gates. Other officials at the gates were in possession of a list of persons who were invited to the meeting as the large crowd grew increasingly loud as the meeting progressed.

The number of residents, which grew to more than 100 as the afternoon progressed, noted that a letter which was distributed to a selected few on August 26 indicated that the residents identified were invited to meet with the Works Ministry officials to discuss their removal.

The letter, which was seen by this media entity, stated that construction phase of the airport expansion programme is imminent and residents of three priority relocation zones will have to remove from the area.

Persons who attended the meeting said that they were told that they would have to relocate to the Yarrowkabra area on the Linden/Soesdyke highway and were provided with forms which they were required to fill at the meeting. They said that a compensation package was proposed but nothing concrete was discussed.

A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) parliamentarian, Annette Ferguson who was on the scene yesterday, stated that the party was given a copy of the letter by a resident and on arrival at the meeting venue she was asked to identify herself but was nevertheless refused entry to the meeting .She said as the crowd grew agitated yesterday, Benn asked to have her attention but she refused since the minister wanted to have the meeting be held behind closed doors.

She said that as a community the residents would have to unite and make their voices heard and according to her, the issue should not be made political but rather one of a civil nature. She added too that the Housing ministry should be the agency to engage the residents.

Fraser stated that Tuesday he was informed that CJIA officials served the letters to residents summoning them to the meeting. He said several of the recipients of the letter visited the TNDC office and expressed concerns about the meeting. Fraser said that an emergency meeting was held among residents earlier Wednesday and residents stated that since nothing concrete was presented to them from the government as regards their relocation, they decided to turn up at the Works Ministry meeting as one unit. He said that the residents are opposed to government segregating the group and as such they requested that the matter be dealt with in a holistic manner. He said Benn informed that he would meet privately with three persons from the group at the conclusion of yesterday’s meeting.

“We are suspicious of everything that the government is doing and additionally we recognise that a lot of equipment is on site but what we have discovered is that at no stage have these people come to us and tell us anything not in the even most minuscule matter”, Fraser added.

Residents stated yesterday that the Housing Ministry never mentioned that the regularisation process of the area has been stopped. They added that the Housing Ministry is the agency which should address the issue as they rejected the Works Ministry and Minister Benn.

At least 2,400 persons live in approximately 400 houses that they have built during the past 50 years, residents said.

Government has said that an Airport Relocation Plan has been crafted by a committee that includes the Ministries of Transport, Local Government, Housing and Water, Regional Democratic Council, Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, CJIA and Lands and Surveys.