President to meet relatives of dead
Fresh autopsies may be done on Bacchus, teens

By Samantha Alleyne,
Daniel DaCosta
and June Bailey Van-Keric
Stabroek News
August 20, 2001

President Bharrat Jagdeo is on Tuesday scheduled to meet the relatives of the eight persons who died after several days of unrest in the Corentyne.

This was disclosed yesterday by a spokesman for the President who said he had been briefed on the developments on the Corentyne. President Jagdeo was in Chile towards the end of last week for a meeting of the Rio Group. He was due back in the country yesterday. Meanwhile, there was calm in the area yesterday following the disturbances on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

The police in the area were reinforced on Saturday following the uproar on Friday when a crowd protesting the deaths of three persons shot dead by members of the Berbice Anti-Smuggling Squad (BASS) on Tuesday attempted to storm the BASS headquarters in Springlands forcing the officers to open fire.

Two persons, 18-year-old Saif Ghani and 48-year-old Steven Angel, were shot dead by the members of BASS while three other persons lost their lives when an ambulance transporting those injured in the shooting to the New Amsterdam Hospital turned over.

Nurse Valarie Howard-Alves lost her life in the accident along with, Janet Best who was seven months pregnant and driver of the ambulance, Mahendranauth Samsundar. Best was injured during the shooting outside the BASS building.

Davindranauth Bhola, Ramnauth Mahase and Khemraj Basdeo, who were all injured in the shooting, and were being transported are now patients of the New Amsterdam Hospital.

Best's sister, Elizabeth Pitman and her niece, Polette ing her to the hospital were also injured in the accident. Kyte was treated and sent away while Pitman, who was found lying unconscious in a trench after the accident, was admitted.

A Guyana Police Force press release on Saturday stated that a full and thorough investigation would be conducted into the shooting incident and a report would be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

This was also stated by parliamentary representative for Region 6, attorney-at-law Khemraj Ramjattan on Saturday after he had visited the BASS headquarter and spoken to the officers.

According to eyewitnesses, the ambulance, PDD 9506, was proceeding along the turn at Number 70 village at a fast rate when the driver lost control causing the vehicle to turn turtle and end up on the parapet.

But before the tragic accident, members of the protesting crowd stoned the BASS building and according to a source more than one hundred persons from the crowd attempted to storm it. The officers, who were holed up in the building at the time felt threatened and opened fire on the crowd. It resulted in two persons being shot dead and four others being wounded.

The incident occured after personnel from BASS went into the Springlands police station at 13:30 hrs in land rover PEE 9762 as part of investigations into the deaths of Bacchus and the two teenagers on Tuesday. As they were about to leave the station, the crowd, of about 400 became unruly, as they believed that they would not get justice from the police investigations.

Deputy Commander M. Glasgow, who was in command, ordered the crowd to disperse, but they did not heed this request. Instead, they tried relentlessly to gain access to the compound, where the BASS officials had remained, and in so doing, pushed and assaulted some of the officers whose batons were taken from the officer in charge.

On Saturday this newspaper saw the evidence of the assault on the building as the windows were shattered and bricks were seen in the compound and inside the building. The windscreens of vehicles in the compound were also shattered.

A man, who said he was part of the protest but did not want to be named, admitted that the crowd stoned the building. However, he said no one attempted to storm the BASS building stating that the crowd was about one hundred yards away when the officers fired upon them. The Springlands Police Station is a short distance away from the BASS building. The man said that the BASS members fired indiscriminately and innocent bystanders were shot. He noted that the protesters, while agitated, were not dangerous as they only stoned the building, burnt one tyre on the main road in Springlands, and attempted to torch some boats which were seized by BASS members and docked on the foreshore. According to the man, members of the Guyana Police Force who were monitoring the crowd were forced to run for cover after members of BASS fired the shots.

He denied that members of BASS first fired warning shots in the air, as was claimed by a source close to BASS.

There was some evidence that the police ranks present at the scene were overwhelmed by the crowd and questions have been raised about the absence of any tear-gas in the police's armament. The availability and use of tear-gas, observers say, would have controlled the crowd when it became unruly and could have prevented the use of firearms. A similar situation confronted the police in June when protesters stormed the Albion Police Station forcing the police to open fire killing one man in the process. The use of tear-gas then, said observers, could have prevented the death. The turmoil has prompted the town's `Chief Citizen' Roy Baijnauth to issue a call for peace and an enabling environment for ongoing police investigations. Speaking with Stabroek News from his Town Hall Office on Saturday, Mayor Baijnauth expressed his sympathy to the relatives of the eight persons who lost their lives on Tuesday and Friday and those who suffered injuries following the storming of the BASS Headquarters and the accident involving the Ministry of Health ambulance. He urged those involved in the protests to be peaceful in their demonstrations and to allow the investigators to conduct their work in a stable environment.

This newspaper has been reliably informed that attempts are being made to secure the services of an independent pathologist to conduct separate autopsies on the bodies of the three persons killed on Tuesday. notorious criminal Azad Bacchus, his 15-year-old son Shazaah and his 18-year-old nephew Fadil Alli died after they were shot by BASS members who said they were taking evasive action after they were fired upon by occupants of a mini-bus the three were in.

The killing of the trio followed the arrest of Shazaah who was reportedly found with a quantity of smuggled plastic bags at his uncle's home. The relatives of the three have disputed the police version of events.

Meanwhile, Colin Joyce, a BASS official of 22 Prince Town, Corriverton, related to Stabroek News that he received an anonymous phone call last Thursday at the squad headquarters which he reported to the police. He said on answering, the caller said, "shoot for shoot, you have to move from the area... you can't stay, wherever you go, we will get you." The father of two has expressed fear for his family and has put measures in place for their safety.

Nine years ago on November 17, 1992, Azad Bacchus then 32 years of age hit newspaper headlines after he single-handedly repelled a squad of policemen with a sophisticated and powerful AK-47 rifle destroying a police land rover and crippling a police rank in the process. The squad had gone to his home at Number 78 Village to investigate reports that Bacchus had in his possession illegal arms and ammunition.

Smuggling across the Corentyne river has been an age-old practice which has enriched hundreds of Upper Corentyne residents. The heart of the business is concentrated in the Corriverton/Crabwood Creek area. For decades law enforcement agencies have struggled to control the illicit trade with limited resources. The trade has long expanded to include arms, ammunition and drugs.

The relatives of the Bacchuses and Alli are adamant that they will not be laid to rest until those responsible for their deaths are brought to justice which could be a long drawn-out process. Meanwhile, a crack investigative team headed by Senior Superintendent Fredrick Caesar who has replaced the former Officer-in-Charge of Crime in Berbice is continuing its probe into the shootings.

A BASS source had on Saturday told this newspaper that Bacchus is usually used as a shield by residents of Corentyne who are involved in smuggling. The source said that since his release from prison in June following a successful appeal against a conviction for the AK-47 crime, Bacchus has been smuggling articles into the country.