KINGSTON, Jamaica — Heavily armed gangs wrestling for control of two communities near Jamaica’s capital have forced more than 200 people from their homes, police said Wednesday.
Families packed mattresses, refrigerators and other belongings into trucks and cars as they fled this week, forming a funeral-like procession out of their neighborhoods. Local school attendance has plummeted from about 600 to 200 students, said Natalie Neita-Headley, a parliament member who represents the area.
Gang takeovers are fairly common in impoverished communities across Jamaica. In recent years, the groups have ousted residents from east Kingston as well as from rural parishes.
Police said they are looking for the leaders of the One Order and Clansman gangs, known mostly for extortion. The gangs have threatened residents and accused them of being police informers, police Supt. Assan Thompson said.
But Monsignor Richard Albert, chairman of a local crime-prevention committee, said the gang leaders have denied threatening anyone.
Albert instead blamed the takeovers on “rogue elements who want to throw people out of their homes so they can put in their own and collect rent.”
The most recently targeted communities are located near Spanish Town about 14 miles (23 kilometers) west of Kingston where gangs have been fighting for control for nearly 10 years.
Several days ago, a separate gang burned down a tenement in Kingston and left more than 40 people homeless. Most of the victims had lived there for almost 60 years.