Police are body to probe death squad claims
-Jagdeo resists independent inquiry
Stabroek News
April 3, 2004

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President Bharrat Jagdeo thinks the police force remains the only appropriate body to investigate the death squad allegations, maintaining his administration's resistance to calls for an independent probe.

"The police can't shirk its responsibility, these are criminal matters... where there is any issue of criminality, the police is the right body, lawfully, to investigate that," Jagdeo told reporters at the Office of the President yesterday, when he held his first press conference for the year.

Jagdeo was responding to a question about a comment by the new Police Commis-sioner Winston Felix, who told Stabroek News in a recent interview that the police force should be ruled out of investigating the allegations.

Felix said he believed the force was tainted by public perceptions that members were involved in the death squad.

Several persons who have knowledge about the group say they are willing to come forward to give information, but are afraid to deal with the police, some of whose members were implicated when self confessed informant George Bacchus went public.

But Jagdeo questioned the credibility of reports that there are persons willing to come forward with information and also questioned the credibility of the Stabroek News.

"What credence do you have...? You can say two hundred sources are coming to me... What credibility does the Stabroek News have on this matter... So let these two hundred sources... simultaneously while they go to the police, if they are willing to come to you they can release it," he noted.

A number of civil society groups as well as opposition parties have called for an independent investigation of the allegations out of concern over several unexplained killings.

But the president held firm to the administration's call for formal statements to be given to the police force, especially now that the government is attempting to rebuild confidence in the force. Jagdeo did express his uneasiness about the idea of an independent inquiry, saying that the panel could be infiltrated by politics.

The unwillingness of the administration to address the situation has been one of the reasons why the Opposition Leader Robert Corbin has withdrawn from dialogue with the President. The two last met in September last year. Jagdeo said because of the PNCR's refusal to talk on any other matter, he has not had the opportunity to meet with Corbin to discuss the issue on a one-on-one basis, except for a chance meeting on a visiting US Coast Guard vessel.

"I think that if we had those discussions we might have been able to sort out some procedures that would treat all the people who were accused fairly, (so) that they do not have a trial by the media," he said.

He added that it would at the same time assure the Guyanese public that the government has nothing to hide over the issue.

But when he was asked by Stabroek News if the suspicious circumstances surrounding suspected death squad member Axel Williams' gun upgrade warranted an investigation, the president instead of answering the question attacked the newspaper's credibility.

"The Stabroek News has ceased to be a party reporting objectively the news. I saw the editorial position of the Stabroek News... that is, a position which is very similar to the PNC, so then you have already decided what you want [and] that's what you are going to advocate. So everything that I say will have to be put in your editorial policy and whatever I say I am not sure that it is even going to be objectively reported... The first time in the world that I have heard a newspaper say that our position on the matter is an outlined position, a newspaper ..and so I'll confine my comments to that approach.

"I have made it clear and it is clear what will happen... Yes, if this case, if this case warrants an investigation then the Commissioner of Police is there... the Commissioner of Police... the one that you all have confidence in," he said.

Williams was granted an upgrade by ex-police commissioner Floyd McDonald on the approval of Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj last July, less than a year after Williams shot food vendor Rodwell Ogle over $20.

After the police investigation, an attorney within the chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) advised that he be charged for murder but this advice was later changed by a senior official in the DPP's Chambers and a Coroner's Inquest was ordered. It was never held and Williams was later granted an upgrade on the approval of Gajraj, who subsequently told reporters that he could not recall whether he had given the approval.