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Macau: The administration loses out to the criminals

Portugal may seek China's help in maintaining law and order in Macau, even before the territory reverts to Chinese control

The Portuguese administration's grip on law and order in Macau appears to have been broken, as previous understandings among organised criminals that they keep their fights off the streets of Macau have evidently been discarded. More attacks such as the one on July 30 will cripple the gambling business, according to the EIU's latest Country Report. The government must dread such an outcome, given its dependency on gambling revenue. It is by no means certain that a new law aimed at making it easier to attack organised crime will be of much help, given the alleged level of criminal infiltration of the police force.

Now that gangsters are opening fire at hotels and throwing explosives into the governor's mansion and police headquarters, there is no reason to rule out the possibility that Portugal will call on assistance from China in policing Macau before sovereignty reverts to the People's Republic of China on December 20, 1999. A premature handover of Macau is almost inconceivable because of the damage it would do to China's effort to tempt Taiwan into the "one country, two systems" fold, and would only be contemplated if cooperation between the Portuguese and Chinese authorities failed to tame the violence sufficiently to prevent a collapse of the gambling sector (and hence a collapse in the Macau government's tax revenue).

This year's spree of gangland bombings and killings (16 people have been killed so far) continued during the second quarter, escalating to what appeared to be a coordinated series of shootings on July 30, accompanied by the throwing of a fire bomb into the grounds of the governor's official residence. Three maintenance workers were shot in the legs at the New Century Hotel on Taipa Island, owned by Stanley Ho, three days ahead of its official opening. A report in the Hong Kong Standard on July 31 said that the 14K triad society is in a dispute with the hotel over the access to the casinos of loan sharks and other gang representatives. On the same day, cars were set on fire outside the Macau Jockey Club, and two cars parked outside the headquarters of the security forces were set alight with petrol bombs.

The alleged head of the 14K triad society, Wan Kuok-koi, was reported by Macau's Hoje newspaper to have promised a bloody gang war which would last until Macau's handover to China in 1999. Police have blamed the recent surge in violence on a "turf war" between Macau's two main triad gangs, the 14K and Soi Fong. A Macau judge signed an order dropping arrest warrants for Mr Wan and four other suspects on July 28, just before the renewed outbreak of violence. The judge, Joao Abrunhosa de Carvalho, retired the next day for what the assistant secretary of security, Manuel Antonio Geraldes, said on August 1 were personal reasons. The South China Morning Post quoted legal sources on August 2 as saying that the warrants would have been allowed to stand under the new anti-gangster law which took effect on August 4.

ŠThe Economist Intelligence Unit Limited 1997. All rights reserved.

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