Temple Vandals are Terrorists
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1. Critical article by journalist Pamela Hansen

Country held to ransom by terrorists

The writing was on the wall, literally. Terrorism is alive and well here in Malta. After any act of terrorism a country is numbed with shock. But when we get over the shock, we need to ensure we stem this wave of destruction.

How long is this country going to allow thugs to rule? Is the annihilation of our heritage going to continue? And I do not mean more security, although we need that too. But the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

Obviously, we cannot accuse without hard proof, but all the circumstantial evidence is pointing to a very obvious direction. Unless this is the work of agents provocateurs. The links are there. This was not an act of mindless vandalism, but a strategic act intended to blackmail and intimidate.

The police are carrying out investigations and are questioning suspects. But so far no arrests have been made. Let us hope that they are not adopting a softly, softly approach.

The question is: who controls this country? There is something very wrong in a society where might is right, where a sector can cause the destruction of our precious heritage if they don't get their way.

The photograph in Tuesday's Times of graffiti on the ground taken at Hagar Qim in 1991 speaks volumes. Namur jew ntajru (pastime [read trapping] or we blow everything up). We have had a lot of time to prepare.

In January 1994 Mdina was targeted by vandals, who daubed pro-hunting messages on palaces, monuments and private residences in fluorescent paint. Offensive messages directed at the prime minister and the Malta Ornithological Society (now BirdLife) were painted on the megaliths at Borg in-Nadur.

This was the time the government had amended the hunting and trapping regulations, banning trapping in the spring.

Later in March 1994 we saw an incredible demonstration of intimidation tactics by the hunters. The headline of The Times front page of March 7 read "Trail of vandalism after hunters' protest".

Trees were uprooted, traffic signs, lights at pedestrian crossings and a telephone booth were damaged, a boundary wall in December 13 Avenue was demolished and stone slabs were used to block roads.

The cavalcade of banner-waving hunters, included trucks with their registration numbers, covered by placards saying "Leave us alone".

Other placards said "Better a bunch of fives than a hundred good reasons" and underneath "EU too much interference". Another proclaimed "Holy War God".

Amazingly no arrests were made after this wave of destruction and intimidation.

BirdLife were obviously intimidated as they are now playing footsie with the hunters and have signed agreements with them on breeding birds for the kill.

They were also up in arms together with the hunters because Margot Wallström did not mince words on European Union directives on hunting and made it clear that no special arrangement will be allowed on the issue.

Many are now being intimidated that the hunters' vote will keep Malta out of the EU. And we know that both political parties are held to ransom by hunters' and trappers' votes.

But the time has come to establish who is running the country. We cannot let the EU cloud this issue. This intimidation must stop.

Despite blame being shifted around from pillar to post, we are all responsible for what has happened.

The political parties and our members of parliament are at the top of the list; the next are the enforcement authorities -the Police, the Army, the Planning Authority and the Museums Department. It is no good that these entities blame each other and say they were unprepared for such an eventuality. They should have been prepared.

This is not the first time that the bad communication links between the guardians of the state has left red faces. Every time some minister or other says he recognises the failings. But nothing is done.

The PA should be more perceptive and responsible. However, I will be loathe to see the PA stopped from the admirable action it is taking to curb land abuse. I do not intend that it should be intimidated by vile actions.

But it must work hand in hand with the police and in the case of our national heritage the army. After all we have no problem with convoys of armed soldiers guarding money, so is not our precious heritage even more valuable?

No one, except perhaps me and a few other voices in the wilderness, have ever objected to gun-toting soldiers in our main cities, and armed road blocks which one sees nowhere except in countries with serious unrest.

We are eager to protect the banks' money and intimidate law-abiding citizens in the hope of finding a few grammes of cannabis, yet sparing trained armed guards for a world heritage site is too much. It is not as if our soldiers are overstretched. I have seen them moving chairs into removal vans from Castille, so I am sure they can be spared.

Enough warnings had been issued to all concerned that our heritage sites were being abused. I find it hard to believe that no one in the police or the army has their nose close enough to the ground not to have had an inkling of what might happen.

I must also take responsibility for not keeping up more pressure on guarding against the obvious threat. Although I did try to alert the public on the issue, I did not do it often enough and for that I am truly sorry.

Like me, many other journalists have brought to the public's attention the risks to our heritage, but we should have been more persistent.

risks to our heritage, but we should have been more persistent.

Pamela Hansen

© Allied Newspapers Ltd 1998-2000



Eurobirder/Proact-Malta © David Conlin 2001