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Police dogs and handlers graduate, Aruba, St. Maarten work together on dog training

page3b055PHILIPSBURG--Two local police officers of the K9-unit, along with their new sniffer dogs, were awarded certificates by the Justice Training Centre on Aruba, from where they graduated on Friday afternoon.

Igmar Woodley with his dog Rasja and Rechek Moeslikan with his dog Astori were trained in Aruba by certified dog trainer Dick van Leenen. After finishing their course, which entailed a theoretical and a practical part, the pairs are ready to combat trafficking in illicit substances and firearms. The dogs and their handlers will return to St. Maarten this week, and will be start their duty soon after their arrival.

Minister of Justice of Aruba Arthur Dowers, with chief of police of St. Maarten Police Force Peter de Witte, presented the certificates to the two St. Maarten police officers and their dogs.

The officers and their dogs were preceded last week by another police handler and his patrol dog, a replacement for one of the two patrol dogs already in St. Maarten, which retired from police service recently.

The minister recounted that the dog training programme started several years ago when, along with Peter de Witte, who was then Police Chief Commissioner of Aruba, he visited the Police Academy in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, where police officers are trained.

He described it as being a “very cold day with a lot of rain” when they met dog trainer Dick van Leenen, who was certifying several dogs to be used as patrol dogs.

Both De Witte and the minister were very impressed with the way Van Leenen prepared the dogs and their handlers, and they approached him to train the dogs on the island.

After De Witte became the Police Chief on St. Maarten, the cooperation between the two countries started. That cooperation is now at a level where the same training standards apply in both countries, and both countries now have trained certification officers, who will certify the dog-handler teams in the other country.

De Witte emphasised that the success of police dogs relies very much on the dynamics between the dog and their handler. The dog has to learn to obey specific commands, and to sniff out specific items and substances, but the handler has to learn how to give the command and how to interpret the dog’s reaction.

The Minister of Justice of Aruba, at the end of the graduation ceremony, congratulated the officers, De Witte and St. Maarten’s Justice Minister Dennis Richardson on the milestone.

SRP gets all signatures, wants 1 Parliament seat

page3c054PHILIPSBURG--Persistence paid off for Social Reform Party (SRP) leader Jacinto Mock when he managed on Monday to court voters to endorse his one-candidate list for the August 29 Parliamentary Elections.

SRP received the 57 signatures needed to be on the ballot for the upcoming elections. The party had only received 81 signatures, falling short of the needed 138, on July 14 when all political parties vying for parliament needed endorsement for their candidates' lists.

The Central Voting Bureau informed Mock on Friday that he would have a second chance on Monday to get the remaining signatures. A designated window for the signing of the list was set up at the Civil Registry on Pond Island.

Mock rallied supporters and before noon he had garnered the required number of signatures from eligible voters.

Mock thanked supporters for taking the time to sign the party's list. He told the press he plans to launch "a large scale" campaign starting at the "grassroots" and taking his message from "patio to patio."

He hopes to at least capture one seat in Parliament to champion the cause of better quality of living for "nurses, doctors, the elderly" and others.

Mock's SRF will join the Democratic Party (DP), National Alliance (NA), One St. Maarten People's Party (OSPP), United People's (UP) party and United St. Maarten (US) party on the ballot.

This is SRP's first elections. Mock is a candidate for the second time. He was an NA candidate for the September 2010 Early Island Council Elections.

A total of 90 candidates from the six parties are vying for the 15 seats in parliament.

Higher-priced flight option offered for cancelled charter

~ No more tickets for Let's Travel charter to Guyana ~

PHILIPSBURG--Frustrated customers who booked a direct-to-Guyana charter flight leaving June 23 through Let's Travel (LT) will either have to cancel their trips or pay around fifty to 100 per cent more through the same agency for an alternative travel option which includes date-and-time changes and the use of a commercial flight.

They had booked more than a month ago and the news came to them two days before their scheduled departure.

LT Chief Executive Officer Terrance Rey said the charges must be passed on, because the charter company had failed to finalise paperwork with the Guyanese civil aviation authorities who he said were "dragging their feet."

However, two customers who came forward who represent four passenger tickets (plus an infant) said they had been assured by LT agents that if anything were to go wrong, they still would be put through without additional charges.

One passenger in particular, who plans to meet his girlfriend and infant child in Guyana at a later date, had booked the two on a one-way Caribbean Airlines (CA) flight for US $380. However, he cancelled the booking in favour of the LT deal which was cheaper at $257 for a return flight and would land in Georgetown in the afternoon rather than very late at night. The direct flight also would have taken just two hours, so it seemed a logical choice.

He said LT now was charging him $258 more for the alternative option for his girlfriend and child, which would cover a commercial flight from Trinidad to Guyana. His choices are to pay this, take a full refund, or organise another option between Trinidad and Guyana. He now reflects that friends warned him that cheaper is not always better, and may cancel his own ticket set for next month.

The family is heading to Guyana for personal obligations rather than a holiday, so he said he needed to make the trip no matter what. However, he said he refused to pay for the company being unprepared. "They emphasised they were going to take care of everybody in case they were not sorted out properly," he said.

LT purportedly told him and another customer who contacted the media not to worry, because it would transport them for the same price, even if they needed to use another airline. "Now suddenly they say no, you have to pay the money," he said.

This promise allegedly was being upheld for other customers who already had paid, as the company stopped issuing tickets.

Another passenger who planned to use the service to go on holiday with his son paid $764 for the two direct tickets and now will have to pay $352 more for the same alternative arrangements. "I can take my money back, but it leaves me with no options. If I had known earlier I could have made other plans," he said. He has yet to decide what to do. "It's really not fair that they are honouring the agreements with other passengers, but I have to pay out of pocket," he added.

He said LT had told him first that he only could go and come back a day late, but then they said it could be only to Trinidad. In an invited comment, he said that even if there were any sort of legal loophole for charters, they should tell you if there might be a change in price or date.

Documentation presented to The Daily Herald showed no fine print and the rules could not be found on the company's Websites.

He said he had heard from other members of the Guyanese community that they had booked the same direct flights, but had been diverted through Aruba, Curaçao and Anguilla.

Similarly, another flight was turned back earlier this month because landing permits had been requested within less than 48 hours, a requirement that management said had not been made clear at the time.

The two who came forward travel to Guyana regularly and said they normally paid less than $500 for a return with commercial airlines. A SkyScanner search last night showed the cheapest tickets for the same date – obviously a bad last minute option – as more than $1,000.

Rey responded that his hands were tied and that he was being realistic with the cost, as he could not absorb them as a tour operator. He said it was up to the Jamaica-based charter company to handle all paperwork with the Guyanese civil aviation authorities and that he had no control over it. "They are still busy with formalities. Authorities want to dot their I's and cross their T's," he said. His company simply markets and sells the product.

He said LT had decided to stop issuing the tickets until paperwork was sorted out, adding that he had turned away four groups recently because the direct flights could not be offered. He said "no more promises" would be made to people and added in an invited comment that there would be no more marketing of the flights. He denied that anyone had been treated unfairly.

He also said the charter was in high demand because of the unavailability of commercial flights, which he said had been an issue for months. The direct flight therefore would have been a solution for a lot of people. "Flights are full," he said.

He added that although the flight had to be cancelled, the company offered the alternative of going through Trinidad as a separate option. The charter has no issues with Trinidad because of an Open Sky agreement. If customers do not wish to use the service, he said they were "simply offered a refund." Customers wishing to cancel can do so without penalties.

Another passenger who also had hoped for a direct flight between St. Maarten and Guyana ended up passing through the British Virgin Islands and Aruba to go there. He said that after the scheduled Caribbean Airlines flight to Trinidad on the way back, the charter plane had had to touch down in Anguilla unexpectedly, albeit briefly, before reaching St. Maarten.

He said that although he was "willing to go with the tide," he thought that it had been handled terribly, especially after a departure tax and taxi transfer between the commercial and charter sections had to be paid separately in Trinidad and the group had waited for more than two hours in the St. Maarten baggage claim area. In St. Maarten, he said, he called his Let's Travel agent, who hung up on him after he became frustrated and requested an explanation for the overly-long wait.

Neither a St. Maarten Aviation Department legal advisor nor a specialist lawyer could be reached for comment up to press time. It is therefore unclear as to whether Let's Travel acted against the law by selling tickets before paperwork was finalised and whether it legally could charge for offering a more expensive alternative two days before departure, even if it were explained as a cancellation and different offer.

The American Society of Travel Agents explains that charters can change itineraries or prices and can cancel for any reason up to 10 days before departure, but must offer customers a penalty-free refund. Cancelling within 10 days can be done only if it is physically impossible to operate the aircraft. This provides some context, although it may not be legally binding in a local setting.

Armed robbery in Cole Bay, Caribbean Cash targeted

COLE BAY--Another armed robbery took place in Cole Bay yesterday afternoon, around 1:00pm as the Caribbean Cash lending agency on Welfare Road became a victim of armed robbers.

Two men entered the office, at least one of whom carried a firearm. The men were not wearing masks. They went to the cashier where one of the men pointed a gun at him and demanded money.

The cashier responded that he had no access to money, to which the second robber said "kill him." The cashier then offered the robbers the small change which he had access to. The robbers took the cash before hitting the cashier and making good their escape.

The manager of the office confirmed the incident. "The Caribbean Cash office at Cole Bay was robbed by two individuals. They only managed to take with them some small change and were unable to take any actual cash," he said.

"The Caribbean Cash Vaults systems can only be controlled remotely from corporate offices in the US. No employees whatsoever on the island(s) have access to the cash inside the vaults which makes it impossible to get access to any cash from the offices from Caribbean Cash."

Police officers and detectives attended the scene to take reports and gather evidence. Two men were arrested on suspicion of the robbery around an hour after the offence took place, as they matched the description given, behaved suspiciously and could not identify themselves.

Police spokesman Inspector Ricardo Henson confirmed that the robbery had taken place, however, he said that it had been established the two men arrested were not responsible for the robbery. They were still being processed at the police station as they had no ID.

Henson confirmed that the Police are continuing their investigation and will do their utmost to bring those responsible to justice. Anyone who has seen anything, or who has noticed anyone behaving suspiciously in the area is requested to report to the Police station.

Man drives vehicle at police officers

SUCKER GARDEN--Four men were arrested for three different offences at Pendant Cactus Drive in Sucker Garden. Officers were sent to the location around 3:30am on Monday, July 21, to investigate a break-in at an apartment building on the road.

In the immediate area, officers noticed a man that fit the description of the suspect that had been given. The man was questioned by police and he admitted that he had committed the act. The suspect A.R. (29) was arrested on the spot and he was taken to the location where the break-in was reported.

At the location, investigating officers located the apartment the suspect had broken into. During the investigation, the officers noticed the scent of marijuana coming from another apartment. When one of the officers looked into that apartment, a man was seen standing in the bedroom with a gun in his hand.

The man was immediately ordered outside, and complied. He denied having a gun in his possession and refused to let the officers search his room. Subsequently, his home was searched by police after obtaining a search warrant.

During the search, a loaded 9mm glock pistol was found under the mattress of his bed. The weapon was confiscated by the Forensic Department for further investigation. Two brothers R.A. (25) and S.J.A. (27) were arrested in connection with the possession of a firearm.

While the arrest was taking place, the officers saw a white Hyundai Accent driving onto the premises at a very high speed. The driver drove this car at two of the officers, causing them to have to jump out of the way to avoid being hit by the car.

The driver of the car J.J.A. (40) was the brother of the two other suspects. He was also arrested for making threats to kill the officers and their families. All suspects remain in custody for further investigation.

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