Guyana to Probe Hit Squad Allegations
Associated Press
February 16, 2004

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GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) - Guyana's prime minister has called for an independent commission to investigate allegations that the government ran a hit squad blamed for more than 40 killings in the past year.

Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, the No. 2 official in the government after the president, made the proposal Sunday night in an interview on an independent television station.

``I think that the way of handling this is in the way of a structured 'truth commission,''' Hinds said.

He added that such a commission should offer pardons and amnesty for those who provide evidence to investigators.

Police, under the Home Affairs Ministry, currently are investigating the claims.

But critics say the probe is not credible because Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj has been accused of leading an extra-judicial hit squad to battle a surge in violent crime in the South American country of 700,000 residents.

The government says it is holding off on an independent inquiry until someone comes forward with official testimony and evidence.

The allegations surfaced after the Jan. 5 drive-by shooting of a cattle farmer. His brother, George Bacchus, told U.S. Embassy officials that he was killed by a death squad under Gajraj and that he himself had worked as an informer for the squad.

Shortly after that, opposition officials said they had received reports that the squad had killed more than 40 others.

The United States and Canada have since revoked Gajraj's travel visa but without giving a reason.

Both Gajraj and President Bharrat Jagdeo have denied any government involvement in such a squad.

Bacchus says the killers were targeting him and mistakenly shot his brother because the two look alike. He has since gone into hiding.

Meanwhile, the governing party expelled a top official Saturday and demanded he resign from Parliament, saying he leaked party information concerning the alleged hit squad.

Khemraj Ramjattan, who had been on the party's 32-member executive committee, denied telling U.S. Embassy officials about party discussions on the claims of an extra-judicial hit squad.

He refused to resign voluntarily from the country's 64-seat lower house.