Key death squad ‘witness’ unsure of testifying
-family cites safety concerns
Stabroek News
July 5, 2004

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A man who says he narrowly escaped death at the hands of the killing squad and could be a key witness has not decided whether he will come forward especially since the murder of self-confessed informant George Bacchus. Phillip Sergeant barely escaped last year from suspected death squad abductors. His family yesterday said they are yet to decide whether he would be testifying before the Commission of Enquiry set up by President Bharrat Jagdeo to investigate the allegations against the Home Affairs Minister or giving a statement to anyone at all because they fear for his life. Contacted yesterday, a relative told this newspaper that the safety of the young man and his family are of paramount importance pointing out that from all indications the state and the police force are ill-prepared to offer any protection.

The relative pointed to the June 24 slaying of Bacchus, who was killed while sleeping in his bed at his Princes Street, Lodge home. Two persons have since been charged with Bacchus’ murder while an arrest warrant has been issued for a third person. Sergeant, 25, was abducted on the night of October 24, 2003 in Lodge by armed men. The young man was bundled out of his home into a green car at around 10 pm by two men, one of whom was masked. They told him he was wanted at Eve Leary after informing the family that they were policemen. Checks by the relatives later revealed that the Sergeant was not wanted by the police nor were the abductors policemen.

The following morning the man contacted his father and informed him that he had escaped from his abductors’ car at the corner of Joseph Pollydore Street and Mandela Avenue. The young man made good his escape by hiding in a nearby clogged trench even as he was fired at by the abductors. It is believed that Sergeant can identify his abductors and can shed light on the current death squad furore. After his escape the man went into hiding. His relative said that while many persons might not know that he is related to Sergeant as soon as he goes public with his horrific experience his entire family would be targeted. The man said that was what they feared most of all. When questioned as to whether he has gone to anyone for advice on the way forward the man said he has not done so since he is not even sure who he could trust and as such he does not want to take any chances. On the same night of Sergeant’s abduction, 23-year-old Andre Ettienna of `C’ Field, Sophia was also kidnapped on Norton Street while sitting on the roadside with friends. Two masked men with guns had got out of a white car and after searching him and his friends they forced him into the car. These men are believed to be the same ones who grabbed Sergeant. Ettienna’s skeletal remains were found earlier this year at the back of the Botanical Gardens and reports were that he died from a single gunshot wound to the head. A relative of the man at the time of his abduction had told this newspaper that it was suspected that Ettienna was kidnapped because he was associated with a man wanted by the then infamous `phantom squad.’

The relative had said that a friend of the young man had a relationship with a woman who was associated with one of the squad members and she felt that Ettienna was abducted because the men could not find his friend who had gone into hiding. Bacchus had said that he had begun objecting to the death squad because it had started killing people for money and in cases similar to Ettienna’s. Bacchus had fingered Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj as knowing of the death squad’s activities, a claim denied by the minister. The commission has been set up to determine if there is any credible evidence to support the claims against the minister and its terms of reference do not include a wider examination of the alleged activities of the death squad. Bacchus had claimed that the squad killed almost 40 persons and other than the minister he implicated several others, including businessmen and ex and serving members of the police force. President Jagdeo when asked about witness protection at a recent press conference said that small countries in the Caribbean will find it impossible to have a witness protection scheme. The issue, he had said, was discussed with the US adding that he hopes the US would respond favourably to a witness protection scheme in the Caribbean.