Friday, May 23, 2008

Opposition parties call for revival of death squad probe

Opposition parties call for revival of death squad probe
...“We have to get to the truth, whatever it takes”
Kaieteur News news item. Friday 23 May 2008

The opposition parliamentary parties, with the exception of the Rise Organise and Rebuild (ROAR) Party, yesterday issued a call for the immediate re-opening of the investigations into the killings of several persons, allegedly at the hands of a ‘Phantom Killing Squad.’
The call came during a joint press conference at which the Alliance for Change (AFC), the People's National Congress Reform and the Guyana Action Party (GAP) were each represented by their leaders, namely Raphael Trotman, Robert Corbin and Paul Hardy.
According to the party representatives, the call was made in light of the revelations coming out of the US court case involving Shaheed ‘Roger’ Khan.
Khan has long been speculated to be the driving force behind the Phantom Squad along with former Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj, who has since resigned from that post and is currently Guyana’s High Commissioner to India.
Drawing reference to the revelations of the court case, the party leaders noted the full page advertisements placed in the daily newspapers wherein Khan claimed that he was working in the interest of the government.
Corbin also reminisced on the times when the government vehemently opposed such an investigation to be approved by the National Assembly.
Trotman, who voiced his support for the investigation, said that not only must the investigating body be reinstituted but its scope must be expanded.
“We have to get to the truth whatever it takes,” said Paul Hardy, who added his support for the investigation.
Corbin noted that what was also alarming was the fact that the US Government did not choose to share the information being disclosed in the US court with Guyana.
He noted that such a move clearly illustrated a lack of confidence in the confidentiality aspect of the Guyana Government.
Corbin added that the fact that the US chose to hold the trial before an anonymous jury shows how dangerous a man Roger Khan is.
According to the main opposition leader, it should not have been the US Government assisting Guyana with its investigation (referring to the police request for information on the killings alleged to have been committed by or ordered by Khan). Rather, it should have been the Guyana Government assisting the US.
Regarding the speediness with which the information may be presented to Guyana, Corbin expressed his optimism but noted that the US may not want to present the information to Guyana until after the investigations.
Between 2002 and 2006, several persons were executed in and around Georgetown and these killings were suspected to have been ordered or conducted by a notorious Phantom Killing Squad.
Killings of this nature occurred mainly in central and Greater Georgetown, and on the East Bank of Demerara.
Among some of the more renowned murders were those of television personality Ronald Waddell, who was riddled with bullets just as he was about to drive from his Subryanville home; taxi driver Christopher St. Hill, called ‘Ninety’, who was found lying in his car just off the Turkeyen Public Road, East Coast Demerara; Devon Cambridge, an 18-year-old from Mc Doom, East Bank Demerara, who was found in a trench in D’Urban Backlands with his hands bound behind his back and his body having sustained several gunshot wounds; and S.A. Nabi and Sons Managing Director, Ashim Sheer Mohamed, who was also shot dead by a group of men in a car while sitting in his pickup which was parked in the North Ruimveldt Multilateral School compound.
During the crime wave that began with the February 2002 escape of five dangerous inmates from the Georgetown Prisons, several people suspected to be linked to criminal activities began to turn up dead.
For instance, on November 23, 2003, 21-year-old Kwesi Williams of Buxton was gunned down on the National Cultural Centre tarmac.
Williams had escaped from a car after being abducted by gunmen. He had bolted into the National Cultural Centre with the gunmen in hot pursuit.
The gunmen had then dragged Williams from the building and executed him on the tarmac.
The following day, labourers working at the back of the Botanical Gardens unearthed a human skeleton. The remains were identified as those of Adrian Etienna, a Sophia resident who was abducted the previous month.
Another man who was abducted along with Etienna had lived to tell the tale.
Also in 2003, six people who were traveling in a car were gunned down in one night in Georgetown.
Questioned about this case, one senior police rank had hinted that “unorthodox methods” were being used to combat the criminals behind the wave of terror that had gripped the country.
One person fingered as a member of the notorious squad was Axel Williams, after Shafeek Bacchus, a businessman from Princes Street, Lodge, was gunned down outside his home.
Following Bacchus’s death, his brother George Bacchus had alleged that the gunmen had actually meant to kill him, but had slain his sibling by mistake.
George Bacchus claimed that he had provided information on the whereabouts of these criminals to Axel Williams and other members of the ‘killing squad’.
Bacchus also alleged that the death squad provided information to the then Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj.
Telephone records would later confirm that Minister Gajraj had been in regular contact with Axel Williams and others who were said to be members of the alleged death squad.
The records revealed that Williams and the other alleged members had contacted Gajraj at his office, his home and also on his cellular phone.
The records further showed that Williams and Gajraj had spoken with Williams a few days before the alleged hit man was gunned down in Bel Air.
The Home Affairs Minister would later confirm that he was in telephone contact with Axel Williams, but claimed that Williams only provided information.
On June 24, 2004, George Bacchus was shot dead while sleeping in an apartment in his brother’s property.

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