Death squad furore
Parliament committee could summon Gajraj -Bar Association Head UK govt concerned over allegations
Stabroek News
January 29, 2004

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The structures for an independent probe of the death squad allegations are already in place according to the Bar Association President and the UK High Commissioner yesterday expressed his government's concern over the claims that have riveted the country.

"We just have to utilise the institutions that we already have in place... we should not create institutions and bypass them," says Guyana Bar Association President Khem-raj Ramjattan, who urged that a full, frank and independent enquiry takes place as soon as possible.

This is to determine the merits of the allegations by George Bacchus that have linked the Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj, to an execution squad that is said to be responsible for extra-judicial killings over the last year-and-a-half.

Ramjattan thinks the Social Services Committee, a Parlia-mentary Sector Committee, ought to meet immediately and summon the Minister to answer the questions about the shocking allegations, which have grabbed the nation's attention over the last three weeks.

He says the Committee could compel the Minister to answer questions pertaining to national security, which he would be bound to answer.

Questions have been raised about the Minister's connection to suspected members of the killing group and the issuance of firearms to people with criminal histories.

Telephone records, which Stabroek News has seen, indicate that a suspected key gang member Axel Williams, who was killed on December 10 in Bel Air in a well- organised hit, made several calls to the ministry and to the residence of the minister. There are also phone records showing calls made to Williams' cell phone including three on November 24.

The Minister, who has dismissed Bacchus' claims as mere allegations, has acknowledged that he has been in contact with Williams and even Bacchus, but he has refused to detail the contents of their conversations, citing national security reasons.

"During the Constitution Reform Process these Com-mittees were created especially for the purpose of scrutinising the Executive branch of Government..." the Bar President noted yesterday, "...we have to utilise the institutions that were created to go after delinquent Ministers."

Ramjattan said based on the submissions before the Committee, recommendations would be made to Parliament on what should be done. He said this could include a recommendation that the Minister resign and that a criminal investigation be instituted.

In its deliberations about the form an independent enquiry would assume, the Bar Association also considered utilising the Disciplined Forces Commission.

The Disciplined Forces Commission was set up by Parliament to review the operations of the Disciplined Services and make recommendations for their reform and sustained development. It is currently preparing its final report for Parliament's consideration.

Ramjattan pointed out that the Commission's Terms of Reference make specific provision for the investigation of extra-judicial killings.

The Commission was mandated to examine, advise and report on the origin, course and development of allegations of unlawful extra-judicial killings, summary executions and the involvement of the police force in illegal activities.

"I know they are empowered to look into the matter.... they could have done it. They could have asked questions of George Bacchus," he told Stabroek News.

The Bar Association has said that an enquiry is necessary to prevent unenlightened speculations on the circumstances and the level of involvement, if any, of the persons who hold office. The Association has signalled its willingness to assist in any way requested, in furtherance of such a process, the results of which, they consider, ought to find acceptance by all Guyanese.

The call for an independent enquiry into the allegations was led by the main Oppo-sition PNCR, which has also asked for the Minister's resignation to ensure the investigation's integrity and independence.

Attempts were made to contact the leader of the Party, Robert Corbin, for the party's definition of an independent enquiry. The PNCR leader through his secretary relayed the party's interest in an impartial investigation and said its position has been publicised in its press statements on the issue. There has however been no specific mention of the structure envisaged by the party for the independent enquiry.

Meanwhile, yesterday, British High Commissioner Stephen Hiscock said that his Government is disturbed by the death squad allegations.

"We are very concerned about the allegations and we believe that the integrity of the government is something that is at question here," he said in an impromptu interview that was broadcast on newscasts on Channels six and nine.

"We hope that the government will find a way to deal with the allegations which will be to the satisfaction of the Guyanese people. Stability in Guyana is very important at this moment and I think that this is what we are working with," Hiscock added.

He said there are a number of areas in which the British wish to help, like the security sector and police reform.

"Government has been talking to us about the need of some things like training in the force, there is great concern about that," Hiscock said, while citing the reports of street crime and the increasing murder statistics.

"[But] it isn't our business to intervene or interfere in a situation like this," he noted, when asked whether there are plans for any direct intervention by the British Govern-ment to resolve the furore over the allegations.

"The government of Guyana knows perfectly well that we are their friend and we are working very hard to co-operate with them since the situation is something that we take very seriously."

American Ambassador to Guyana Roland Bullen had told Stabroek News on Saturday that the US Embassy is seriously considering the allegations made by Bacchus in statements to US regional law enforcement officers.

He said the information given by Bacchus is still being evaluated and once this is completed it would be raised with the appropriate authorities. Yesterday, the Embassy' press officer Daniel Daley said nothing has changed since the Ambassador's statements on the issue.

Bacchus has told the US Embassy that he once used his own money to gather intelligence on criminals for the group, which carried out the killings of several wanted men. But he believes that he was the intended target of an execution, in which his brother, Shafeek, was killed. He said this was because he had voiced his concerns about the activities of the gang, which began to kill-for-hire. Since his brother's death, Bacchus has visited the US Embassy, where he has given an official statement about the activities of the group and its linkage to the Minister of Home Affairs, several senior policemen and prominent businessmen.

According to Bacchus, the group was formed because of the wave of crime which swept the country in 2002, following the February 23rd jailbreak, when five dangerous criminal escaped. A series of crimes, including spectacular robberies and murders and the targeting of policemen soon followed. Several wanted men who were believed to have been the catalysts behind the crime wave were killed since that time and there has been a gradual reduction in the violent and serious crimes.