Formal report key to death squad probe - Luncheon
Stabroek News
January 21, 2004

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The government is continuing to hold the position that a formal statement has to be made on death squad allegations before an investigation is ordered and the PNCR yesterday began mobilising support for an independent probe of the claims.

Cabinet Secretary, Dr Roger Luncheon at his post-Cabinet press briefing yesterday insisted that there is need for the police to be briefed by persons with information about where and when the alleged incidents occurred.

Allegations of the existence of a killing squad with connections to Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj have seen various groups demanding the minister's resignation. The allegations were first made by George Bacchus whose brother Shafeek Bacchus was gunned down on Princes Street earlier this month. Three men have since been charged with the murder. However, despite speaking with several media houses following his brother's killing and making allegations, George Bacchus has since been unavailable to Stabroek News and has not tendered a formal statement to the police on his death squad claims.

Luncheon at the briefing yesterday said it would be unfair for any administration to ask a member of cabinet to vacate office on the basis of media reports or other sources besides the police. It is also difficult to try to use these reports to mount investigations, Luncheon said.

Luncheon however reiterated that the government had noted the seriousness of the allegations but was not prepared to act on the basis of media reports. He said that cabinet, which had met on Friday last and again yesterday morning for its weekly scheduled session, had considered the issue at length and was in agreement with the position he was expressing.

The cabinet secretary noted that there is yet to be a formal complaint lodged with the police and as such the allegations remained just that - allegations.

Luncheon anticipated that there would be a likely conclusion to the issue "if the (persons making the allegations) would move to the police and make suitable reports and disclosures around which a proper investigation, guided by their disclosures, could take place."

The cabinet secretary acknowledged that the Office of the President is in receipt of a letter from Leader of the Opposition Robert Corbin addressing concerns on the issue.

"I am certain that as has occurred in the past, the President will be responding to Corbin at the most opportune time," Luncheon said.

"Our sentiment is that the allegations are quiet serious, but let's move them beyond allegations," and have a formal complaint and disclosures to the police.

According to the cabinet secretary, this is the minimum that is being asked for to lead to an investigation of the allegations.

Probe committee

Meanwhile a committee is to be formed to pursue the launch of an independent investigation against the Home Affairs Minister in the aftermath of the accusations of death squad dealings levelled against him.

During a meeting yesterday that the People's National Congress Reform (PNCR) convened at City Hall, members of the public and civil society groups decided that a committee be constituted to properly oversee the matter.

The new committee is to meet today at City Hall to work out the plan of action it hopes to pursue.

At City Hall, many of the persons and groups present called for the Minister to demit office to allow for an investigation.

PNCR member Debra Backer said that the matter is one that called for a national approach. Corbin said that the issue goes to the rule of law in society. "If allegations made are true, [then] there is no indication as to where it stops," he said.

The PNCR is refusing to deal with Gajraj on an official basis and demonstrations have been held outside the minister's office calling for his resignation.

Member of the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) Emily Dodson asked whether there is a Parliamentary committee before which the minister, being a Parliamentarian, could appear.