2003 murder rate tips scales at 180 By Kim Lucas
Stabroek News
November 23, 2003

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One hundred and eighty persons have been murdered for the year, 50 more than the corresponding period for 2002, despite a 13 per cent overall decline in serious crimes.

This did not mean, however, that the situation was worsening, Crime Chief Leon Trim said during an interview with Stabroek News on Tuesday. He explained that in comparison with last year during the heavy crime spree, there had been fewer robberies, break and enter and larceny and other such offences committed, but there had been an increase in the number of people killed.

The homicide toll reached 180 on Tuesday following the shooting deaths of three men in the Buxton/Friendship community and the discovery of the body of a young taxi-driver on the Ogle foreshore. This recent spate of execution-style killings in the city and along the East Coast and East Bank Demerara is believed to be the work of vigilantes who are weeding out suspected thieves, or persons settling personal scores, another law enforcer said.

"It is a fact that several persons have turned up dead, of which the circumstances are not clear so far [but] all these matters are under investigation with a view [to] bringing the suspect or suspects to justice," Trim said.

The killings have sparked calls from various interest groups in society for more action to be taken by the police, but the Crime Chief is adamant that the force's intelligence personnel are working diligently on every case. However, he said, the police alone could not fight crime; other members of civil society needed to lend a helping hand by not withholding certain information.

Recently, one body, the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) said the deaths of more than 30 African Guyanese killed under mysterious circumstances "have created deep alarm in the African Guyanese collective."

It was Secretary to the Cabinet, Dr Roger Luncheon, who first labelled the mysterious killers as "phantom," following the October 28, 2002 bloodbath in sections of the city and along the East Coast Demerara during which seven men were shot dead.

In a strongly worded statement, ACDA said it was concerned that often, in these apparent executions, members of the public have identified police officers as being part of the phantom killers.

But Trim categorically disassociated the force from any gangs which some claimed were operating parallel to the police force, although he said in some cases the shooting victims might have had a record. According to the law enforcer, some of the incidents can also be a result of animosity or falling out among gang members.

"At the moment, we are of the view that there are, in fact, gangs operating based on the actual happenings out there. We are working assiduously in gathering intelligence and doing investigative work, which ultimately is aimed at bringing these people to justice. We are still uncertain as to what is the motive behind these killings where bodies are turning up in different places, riddled with bullets... The circumstances surrounding the entire state of affairs are still uncertain, [but] we are doing all within our powers, given the resources. We have to be on top of the situation and to be successful, the police all by themselves cannot fight crime. It has to be a collective effort by the external stakeholders."

In instances where cops are fingered as the perpetrators in some of the 'mysterious' shootings, Trim said persons must be willing to come forth with such information and give statements to that effect, or call one of the police hotline numbers.

"The force always launches full-scale investigations and seeks advice from the Director of Public Prosecu-tions (DPP) in all cases where its members fatally shoot persons, or are accused of using extra force," the Crime Chief stated.

During the past month, several persons have been reported missing, some of whom have later turned up dead. In one case last month, a 41-year-old father of two, Mukesh Boodhoo, was taken from his Vryheid's Lust home on the East Coast Demerara by a group of men. He was subsequently found murdered.

Operating on the hypothesis that members of the force might have arrested him, relatives moved to the High Court for a writ of habeas corpus to be directed to the Commis-sioner of Police to present Boodhoo in court. However, two days after a judge made the order, Boodhoo's partly decomposed body was found aback of Eccles on the East Bank Demerara with a bullet wound to the head. Two days prior to the discovery of Boodhoo's body, the skeletal remains of another man were found at First Hill, Kuru Kururu on the Soesdyke-Linden Highway. Then two weeks later, another body turned up along the Mocha access road, East Bank Demerara. There were several other execution-style shootings in the city afterwards.

In addition to the bodies, the police are yet to ascertain the whereabouts of kidnap victims, taxi-driver Viveka-nand Nandalall, who was snatched on October 16, and 29-year-old Krishna Lakeram, who was abducted from his Friendship, East Bank Demerara home on November 11. Lakeram's older brother, too, has not been seen or heard from since that day.

The police say all the matters are still under investigation, but no one has been charged for any of the crimes to date.