Gajraj statement
Reactions guarded, approving
Stabroek News
May 8, 2004

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Opposition leader Robert Corbin says the Home Affairs Minister's bid for an impartial inquiry into the death squad allegations is a move in the right direction for the administration, but he has reservations.

"[The] statement does not indicate any major movement on the part of the government... I would say, however, that the statement seems to be a shift in the right direction, which I hope the government will continue to travel," Corbin told Stabroek News yesterday.

His comments were in reference to a statement yesterday by Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj, who requested that President Bharrat Jagdeo put the mechanism in place for an impartial inquiry to look into the allegations that link him with a death squad.

It has been four months since the allegations were first made by George Bacchus, who claimed to be an ex-informant for a group that was set up to hunt criminals responsible for the unprecedented crime wave that followed the 2002 jail-break. Bacchus said the group also performed contract killings and he credited it with many of the unsolved abductions and murders that occurred over the last two years.

The government had resisted calls for an investigation, saying there was no credible evidence and the investigation should be conducted by the police.

Corbin was cautious about the minister's statement, which he says remains nothing more than a public relations exercise until the minister does indeed step aside and the inquiry is set up. He made a point of noting that this latest development could be a charade familiar to the government as evidenced by its positions on the recent remigrant scam and the years-old stone scam.

"Unless there is serious movement to establish an impartial inquiry with an international presence [and] with persons of unblemished integrity acceptable to all the major stakeholders, I [cannot] say Gajraj's statement is an indication of any progress," Corbin said.

Nevertheless, he did welcome the statement as an indication of the minister's agreement that there should be an independent inquiry, which would be facilitated by his vacating the ministerial post.

"However," he added, "until he steps aside we are unconvinced of the government's intentions."

Convenor of the People's Movement for Justice (PMJ), Desmond Trotman was equally apprehensive about the minister's new position, though he called it a positive development.

"If that is true, it's a positive development but we have to wait to see what is going to take place before we offer a full comment on the issue... At this point all we will say is that it is a positive development," he said.

The PMJ is a coalition of several groups which have been pressing for an independent probe of the allegations.

Ravi Dev, leader of the ROAR Guyana Movement which supported the Rule of Law marches organised by the PMJ, also welcomed Gajraj's statement, but said it should not be confined to the death squad allegations only.

In line with the combined opposition letter to the United Nations, he said, he expects the inquiry will also be extended to include the examination of the violence in the country since the February 2002 jail-break, the Buxton village and other manifestations of criminal violence.