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Civil servants among those affected by demolition of illegal settlement in Bernard Lodge

Thursday's demolition of illegally constructed houses near Clifton in Bernard Lodge, St. Catherine has highlighted the challenges surrounding affordable home ownership in Jamaica.

A resident of Clifton told Radio Jamaica News that civil servants to include members of the security forces and teachers are among the people affected by the demolition on the outskirts of the community. She said they chose to build on the land because it is what they could afford.

"A maybe 'bout eight soldier on di list that I have here weh have dem house down there, weh just start build 'cause dem nah get di good pay fi jus done it. But is no criminal, no criminal living around here. Is pure law person," she insisted. 

About 30 illegally erected housing projects on Sugar Company of Jamaica lands were slated to be demolished following a directive from Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Mr. Holness told the House of Representatives on Wednesday that gangsters have been capturing lands in the area to create informal subdivisions. 

The resident, who spoke with Radio Jamaica News on condition of anonymity, said the demolition team came Thursday early morning with sledgehammers and excavators.

"Down here, there is a lot of police and soldier like is a war zone. Dem seh dem aguh save di house dem like weh have top pon dem. Suh dem weh just start come out a di grung and reach all roofing, dem a lick dem dung sed way, because right now a one dem deh pon a lick it dung... fi tell yuh how serious dem is," the woman revealed. 

Barriers were erected along the road leading to Clifton, preventing access by motorists.

The resident said people wanting to enter or leave the community were unable to do so.

Prime Minister Holness told Parliament on Wednesday that gangsters have been selling lands under the pretext of ownership or building on them, which poses a security threat to development in the Bernard Lodge area.

Patricia Shaw, who had hoped to occupy a spot of land on the outskirts of the Clifton community, shared with Radio Jamaica News that she had not started construction.

Ms. Shaw said she did not receive permission to build from the Sugar Company of Jamaica, but considering the demolition taking place in the area, she was unsure what she would do next. 

Another woman, Sharia Adamson, who was observing the demolition, showed Radio Jamaica News her possession holder certificate from SCJ.

Ms. Adamson was concerned that her house would be demolished along with the others, especially because it does not yet have a roof. 

While she did not purchase the land, the woman said she had spent about $500,000 already to build the structure. She also said she would cease because, like others, she did not "know what's next". 

Senior Communications Strategist with the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Dennis Brooks said not all the illegal structures will be demolished on Thursday.

He said unoccupied and unfinished houses will be first.

Mr. Brooks noted that some of the affected people have expressed displeasure with the exercise and have challenged the police intelligence on the situation.

However, he said the police are confident in their information that there is gang activity in the area. 

He explained that modern criminal organisations have found various ways to acquire funds, adding that "persons sometimes wittingly or unwittingly are supporting criminal organisations and their acquisition of ill-gotten gains". 

Mr. Brooks said the police will not allow criminal networks to "set root and take effect" in the community, only to regret in the future that it had not taken action earlier.