Upper Corentyne calm after killings, crash
Ghani, Angel, Best were innocent bystanders - relatives

Stabroek News
August 19, 2001

Even as calm descended yesterday on the upper Corentyne, residents were still in a state of shock following several deaths in the area on Friday evening. Two persons were shot dead during a protest outside the Berbice Anti-Smuggling Squad (BASS) headquarters in Springlands, while three others died following an accident involving the ambulance in which those injured in the confrontation were being transported to the New Amsterdam hospital.

Dead are Steven Angel, 42, of Number 53 Village; 18-year-old Saif Ghani of Bank Road Springlands; Janet Best, 32, of Lot 13 Number 78 Village; Mahendranauth Samsundar of 40 Church street, Line Path and Valerie Howard-Alves of Scottsburg who was a nurse at the Skeldon hospital. Also injured in the ambulance accident that occurred at the Number 70 Village was 48-year-old Elizabeth Pitman; Polette Kyte, who was treated and sent away; 24-year-old Davindranath Bhola of 175 Baljit street, Corriverton; Ramnauth Mahase and Khemraj Basdeo both of 192 Church street Corriverton.

It all began when the residents of the upper Corentyne mainly from the Springlands and Scottsburg area staged a protest outside the BASS headquarters following the death of three persons in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Azad Bacchus, a known high seas pirate, his 15-year-old son Shazaah Bacchus and 18-year-old nephew Fadil Ally were shot and killed during a exchange of gunfire with the BASS members.

However, the protest got ugly late on Friday afternoon and members of BASS opened fire on the protesting crowd who they said stormed their office and attempted to get into the building.

Yesterday, parliamentary representative for Region Six, attorney-at-law Khemraj Ramjattan, along with Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy visited the area and appealed for peace.

They also visited the relatives of the dead persons and described Friday's incident as unfortunate. Ramjattan said that investigations would be launched into the shooting by senior members of the Guyana Police Force who would subsequently forward a report to the DPP's office. If any of the officers were found culpable they would be charged, he said.

He also spent about half an hour at the BASS headquarters where he extensively questioned the officers about Friday's incident.

According to an eyewitness report the ambulance, PDD 9506, was proceeding along the western lane of Number 70 Village at a fast rate when the driver, Samsundar lost control, causing the vehicle to turn turtle before ending up on the western parapet. As a result the driver, along with a nurse were killed. The badly damaged vehicle was seen parked in Springlands Police Station compound yesterday.

The relatives of Ghani and Angel who were shot dead by BASS members yesterday claimed that they had been innocent bystanders who had not been part of the protesting crowd. The father of Saif, Ahad, said that upon hearing the gunshots he proceeded into the crowd to investigate and saw persons being assisted to the Skeldon hospital. The man said he identified his son from the clothes he was wearing as one of those who had been shot. His son later died at the Skeldon hospital.

According to Ahad, his son had been sitting on his bicycle some distance away from the crowd when he was shot.

Angel, a canecutter had just returned from the GNCB bank where he collected money and was said to have been standing on the foreshore some distance away from the BASS headquarters when he was shot.

Janet Best who was seven months pregnant was reportedly exercising on the foreshore behind the BASS office when she was injured in the neck by a bullet. Her niece, Polette, yesterday said that she and another aunt, Elizabeth, were accompanying Janet to the New Amsterdam hospital when the accident occurred. The young woman said she could not recall how the accident happened, but remembered feeling the ambulance turning over. She said she was tossed onto the road but only sustained minor injuries. She immediately started looking for her aunt and said when she saw Janet, she knew she was dead because of the bloody condition of her head. Elizabeth was found unconscious in the trench and was taken to the New Amsterdam hospital where she was admitted.

Mother of Samsundar, Marie, recalled that her son had been reluctant to return to his place of employment on the fatal day. According to the woman, her son had returned home after working on the morning shift at the Skeldon hospital when he received a phone call stating that there was an emergency at the hospital. She said he told her he had no money but she decided to give him the $200 fare to return to the hospital. She said she now wished she had not given him the money.

Meanwhile, when Stabroek News visited the BASS headquarters the officers who included some members of the police force were involved in a lively game of dominoes. This newspaper was taken around the compound and shown damage caused by the protestors who were said to have stoned the building. The windscreens of several vehicles in the compound were shattered as well as windows in the building itself. Bricks were seen inside and outside the building and some were seen on the beds.

A source close to BASS told Stabroek News that a load of bricks had been transported and offloaded outside the BASS headquarters early Friday morning. According to the source, the crowd became agitated after seeing some of the officers who had been involved in Tuesday morning's incident being called over to the Springlands station for questioning. The source said the crowd began to stone the building and the officers were forced to seek cover behind the walls. However, the source said more than 100 protestors then stormed the back compound and while some attempted to rip out the treaders on the steps, others proceeded to climb the stairs. The officers felt threatened and opened fire on the crowd resulting in two men being killed.

Asked whether the officers had fired warning shots in the air the source said that the crowd did not retreat. As to whether BASS had pellets, the source responded that BASS was not the Tactical Services Unit.

The source went on to say that the protestors were claiming that Shazaah was a child, but he questioned what the young man was doing on the Line Path foreshore at 11:30 pm off-loading plastic bags.

The source said that members of BASS were on routine patrol when they caught the young man with 105 cartons of plastic bags (not 26 bales as stated in the police press release), which he was smuggling into the country, not out.

The cartons of green and black plastic bags were being stored underneath the BASS building in public view yesterday. The source said that after the young man was confronted, he attempted to escape by hiding underneath a truck and it was during this process that he sustained an injury to his head. He was taken to the BASS headquarters before being transferred to the Skeldon hospital, where his father in company with several others later stormed the facility and escaped with the young man injuring several persons in the process.

The source said the BASS members were on patrol when they saw the mini-bus with Azad and others and they followed it. Upon seeing the officers, the occupants reportedly opened fire forcing them to take evasive action.

The source said that since the shooting the officers have been afraid for their lives as they have received several threatening phone calls. He said even the family members of the officers were being threatened in this way.

The family members of Azad Bacchus and the two teenagers are maintaining that they were killed in cold blood.

Residents yesterday said that although several members of the Guyana Police Force were present during the protest on Friday, the shooting by the BASS members forced them to run for cover.