Friday, July 4, 2008

Bungle in the jungle

Bungle in the jungle
Stabroek News Editorial. Tuesday 1 July 2008

Long before the Lusignan, Bartica and Lindo Creek massacres, the Government Information Agency in September 2007 had reported Lieutenant Colonel Jawahar Persaud of the Guyana Defence Force as expressing satisfaction with the maturity with which the Joint Services had been able to coordinate their operations. He said “We are now perfect in the art of joint operation. Maybe in the past we were not, but we are now perfect in it. To a greater extent, we are synchronized − the military and the police − in these operations.”

According to Colonel Persaud, there were controls all levels relating to the execution of orders, firing of weapons and follow-up action on patrols subsequent to an operation − all procedures that ensure maximum success. But, since Operation Restore Order began in January in the aftermath of the Lusignan atrocity, operations at Bartica and elsewhere have been far from perfect and success has been strangely elusive.

Last January, also, in the wake of the Lusignan atrocity, GDF Chief of Staff Commodore Gary Best announced that a Joint Special Operations Group had been assembled “specifically to hunt down gunmen and eliminate the current threat they pose.” He confirmed, further, that “all land, sea and air resources are being utilised.”

The expectation, therefore, was that the GDF and GPF would be operating jointly on a common mission and that adequate resources had been made available.

The present phase of Operation Restore Order which began on June 6, however, seems to be neither joint nor special. The police force apparently decided on its own to go after the brigand Rondell ‘Fineman’ Rawlins for whom the administration had offered a hefty $50M reward. Why was the newly-formed Joint Special Operations Group not involved from the start?

It has now been established that the police bungled the June 6 assault at a camp at Christmas Falls, allowing some bandits to escape into the jungle. Evidence was found to suggest that the gang lived comfortably with tents, hammocks, mattresses and a music system and possessed mobile phones, foodstuff, medical supplies, spare clothing and other amenities. One bandit, Otis Fifee, was killed. The security forces suggested that the bandits had been taken by surprise, and would probably be caught or would perish in the dense jungle. That now seems unlikely.

Far from being desperate fugitives who had been caught in a trap, however, the bandits had followed separate escape routes and no one seemed to have a clue about where they are or how many of them are left. On the next encounter at Goat Farm almost 145 kilometres from Christmas Falls, the police shot and killed Julius Chung and Cecil Ramcharran during a “confrontation.” These two were living quite comfortably with weapons, ammunition, cooking utensils, holy books and other items. By this time, troops had been deployed and some sort of joint army-police operation was underway at last.

The latest episode occurred at Lindo Creek where the skulls and human remains of eight diamond miners were found in a camp a mere 16 km from Christmas Falls. The fact that so many practically unarmed men were killed in a single place, and that an effort had been made to burn the bodies, has stirred a huge controversy about the identity of the murderers.

Police Commissioner Henry Greene has unambiguously blamed the bandits for the massacre. But the proprietor of the mining enterprise, Mr Leonard Arokium, a land surveyor who is familiar with the topography of the area, held impressive press briefings that challenged the official version of the massacre.

Uncharacteristically, and perhaps unwisely, the joint services have not brought out their own maps to show the disposition of their forces, the locations of camps and the routes that were used, unlike previous occasions.

Regardless of which version is credible, the fact is that Rondell Rawlins and some of his homicidal henchmen still have not been brought to justice. No citizen can rest comfortably knowing that the murderous gang is still at large. Equally, no one is convinced that the performance of the joint services has encouraged hope.

In his funeral oration for Agriculture Minister Satyadeow Sawh over two years ago, President Bharrat Jagdeo said “No one can convince me that among 5,500 persons in the security forces and all the money we spend in that area, that we can’t find and mete out to them [the bandits] what they deserve for terrorizing our people and our country.”

Indeed, after three bloody massacres in six months and the bungling operation in the jungle, it is clear that the joint services have to do much better, much faster, to perfect the art of joint operations and to make this country safe from banditry.

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