Demonstration over deaths of Bacchuses, Ally turns deadly
BASS fires on protesters reportedly killing four
Ambulance accident claims four lives
Several injured
Police Commissioner appeals for calm

By Jeune Bailey Van-Keric
Stabroek News
August 18, 2001

The Upper Corentyne was in the throes of a major tragedy last evening when shooting from the Berbice Anti-Smuggling Squad (BASS) headquarters reportedly left four people dead and four others died when an ambulance ferrying some of the wounded overturned.

Shots rang out from the BASS headquarters when a hostile crowd riled up over the killing of a man and two teenagers by BASS operatives on Tuesday descended on the building yesterday.

Police Commissioner, Laurie Lewis told Stabroek News last night that he had received reports that at least one man was killed and two others injured when BASS operatives opened fire on the crowd gathered outside its Skeldon headquarters.

Lewis said he was told that the crowd was stoning the building. A Springlands resident, who was involved in the protest, said that the BASS operatives fired live rounds. A police source last night said that four persons had been shot dead. Stabroek News was unable to obtain the names of these persons as pandemonium reigned in the area.

The situation worsened when a Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) ambulance, which had been called to take the injured to the New Amsterdam Public Hospital, overturned while negotiating the turn at Number 70 Village, Corentyne, killing the driver, known as 'Sam'; Valerie Howard, a nurse; and a mother in labour, Janet Best called 'JJ' who was in her seventh month of pregnancy. Both mother and baby succumbed in the crash.

Others who were in the ambulance and who were listed in critical condition last night were Khemraj Basdeo of Third Street, Number 78 Village, who apart from crash injuries had a bullet in his chest; Belinda Alves, a nurse; Dookin Elizabeth Cort, sister of Best, who was accompanying her to the hospital; Hemraj Kemo, Devindra Bhola and Dharmendeo Ramnarace. The last three were said to also be suffering gunshot wounds.

Relatives of Azad Bacchus, 41, his son Shaazah Bacchus, 15, and his nephew Fadil Ally, 18, were into their second day of protest against BASS members who had shot the three dead in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. They were joined yesterday by members of the Muslim community, of which the dead trio was a part.

As the day progressed, the protest, which was centred mainly on the BASS headquarters some 300 yards from the Skeldon Police Station, escalated. Some members of the crowd set fire to a BASS boat, which was at the back of the building, but BASS members who were holed up inside the building quickly extinguished it. At around 6:30 pm, protesters began lighting tyres on the road outside the BASS building and the police station, effectively disrupting traffic.

Witnesses told Stabroek News that it was around this same time that the protesters tried to storm the BASS compound. Shots were fired from inside the building, hitting some persons and the others retreated.

Up to late last night, persons were still milling around on the streets and there was a large crowd in front of the Skeldon Hospital. Police had secured the immediate vicinity of the station and BASS headquarters.

Lewis told Stabroek News last night that he had issued an appeal for calm in the area, which was broadcast on the television stations in the vicinity. He also said that he had dispatched a riot unit and additional ranks to the area.

The commissioner said that he had assured the Corentyne residents that the force's top homicide investigator was already in the area leading the investigation into the shooting deaths of the Bacchuses and Ally. He said he also assured them that the probe would be thorough.

A police statement issued on Tuesday had said that the incident stemmed from the arrest of Shazaah Bacchus, who had 26 bales of plastic bags for smuggling out of the country, by ranks of BASS who were on patrol at 11:30 pm on Monday. During the arrest, the younger Bacchus reportedly attempted to escape and sustained injuries. He was escorted to the Skeldon Hospital for medical treatment.

The police release said that after this, about 30 persons, some of whom were armed, including the young man's father, stormed the hospital and discharged a number of rounds. They escaped with the younger Bacchus in mini-bus BEE 443.

According to the release, the high seas bandit, the two teenagers and other persons were in a mini-bus, which was accosted by a BASS patrol and they had opened fire on them.

The release said that BASS was forced to return fire, and about five persons had been seen scampering away. When the gunfire ceased, the release said, the three were found dead in the bus. The police said, too, that a .32 pistol seven live rounds of 9 mm Luger ammunition, four live 7.62 rounds, eight .67 SMC rounds, one .22 pistol and five live rounds were found along with a quantity of spent shells. One man was said to be in custody.

However, Azad Bacchus's reputed wife and his mother denied this account. They both claimed that Bacchus had driven home with his son and nephew and was accosted by BASS members, who had been waiting for him near his home. They said the trio was arrested and taken away. Assuming they had been taken to the police station, the wife, Sabita Shivgobin had later visited the station. She was unable to get any word as to their whereabouts and later learned that they were dead.

The family insists that Bacchus and the two lads were executed. And an Upper Corentyne resident had told this newspaper that a familiar vehicle was seen along the entrance to the sea coast early on Tuesday and that gunshots were heard in the area. The resident believed that Azad Bacchus and the teenagers were taken to the Scottsburg foreshore and shot. The clothing on their bodies was wet as they lay in the morgue on Tuesday.

Yesterday's events was the second major eruption of unrest on the Corentyne in recent months. Earlier this year. in the midst of a unrelenting crime wave, Corentyne residents mounted several days of protest which culminated in an attempt to storm the Albion Police Station. One man was shot dead as a result and President Bharrat Jagdeo subsequently visited the area and announced a series of measures to battle crime. Ranks from the Albion station were also transferred.