– Govt. orders removal of Commander, agrees to Commission of Inquiry
“It is very clear to my mind that excessive force was used which is contrary to the training doctrines and the rules of engagement of the Guyana Police Force.”- Granger
By Leonard Gildarie
As Linden remained tense yesterday following Wednesday’s police shootings of Linden protestors that left three dead and several injured, government has agreed to establish a Commission of Inquiry.
There was widespread condemnation yesterday of the shooting and an under-pressure government, through the Ministry of Home Affairs, last night announced that it has given orders for the removal of the Police Commander in the area.
Yesterday, opposition parties joined calls that police used excessive force by firing on a group of protestors on the Kara Kara bridge Wednesday evening.
Yesterday, President Donald Ramotar met with representatives of both A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC), where it was agreed for the special commission to investigate the shootings. But the opposition parties said that no clear concrete agreements were reached with the President and the Region 10 community remained “ready and committed to continue their fight for justice”.
The AFC has since indicated that it is not happy with the fact that there is no consensus on an international input into the commission.
According to the Home Affairs Ministry last evening, it has requested of the Commissioner of Police (ag) a “full, comprehensive, and immediate report on the matter”.
“The Ministry of Home Affairs wishes to emphasize that the events which took place at the McKenzie-Wismar Bridge was strictly a Police operation with no direct or indirect involvement of the Ministry of Home Affairs.”
The Ministry said it understands that work has already begun on the said report. “However, much depends on the speedy arrival of the bodies of the deceased in Georgetown to allow for the post mortems to be conducted by the competent medical authorities.”
The Ministry said it fully supports the call and the decision by the Administration to establish a Commission of Inquiry (COI), with an international dimension yet to be determined.
“As an integral part of the Administration, the Ministry of Home Affairs stands ready to cooperate with the Commission when it is established and in keeping with the agreed Terms of Reference.”
The statement also said that the Minister of Home Affairs has issued general and specific directions to the Commissioner of Police (ag) to effect immediate changes at the command level at E & F Police Division, of which Linden is an integral part.
The Ministry also warned that the Joint Services will continue with their patrols in an effort to maintain an environment of peace and calm and good order at Linden.
During a press conference yesterday, APNU’s leader, Brigadier David Granger described the shooting as the worst tragedy for the year.
“It is very clear to my mind that excessive force was used which is contrary to the training doctrines and the rules of engagement of the Guyana Police Force.”
Also at the media conference were APNU’s Rupert Roopnaraine, Joseph Harmon, Winston Felix, Vanessa Kissoon and Region 10 Chairman, Sharma Solomon.
“Moves are now underway to draft the terms of reference under which would direct the operations of the COI…this process could be completed as early as today,” Harmon asserted.
Granger said that while APNU members were part of the “peaceful” protesting on Wednesday, it was all an exercise by Linden citizens and involved representatives from the religious and business sectors of that Region 10 area. He blasted the State media for sowing mischief by suggesting that the actions were APNU and AFC.
$37M water cannon
On the use of force by police, Granger, a former army chief, insisted that there are clear instructions about its use which should allow protesting citizens an opportunity to obey. There are no immediate injuries to police ranks that would necessitate the shootings at the protestors. The fact that several persons had metal fragments from live rounds removed from their bodies suggested a situation of wanton, excessive force, the Opposition Leader said.
Winston Felix, a former Commissioner of Police, also blasted the police and questioned why the much-touted $37M water cannon was not taken to Linden even though police had been given ample notice of the intentions by Lindeners to protest. In addition to that, the absence of batons and shields to control the crowds was also questioned, with emphasis being placed on how prepared the “riot” police really were.
It was pointed out that the evidence of “graduated force” from warnings to tear gas to rubber bullets was definitely absent, as well as police administration, and the opposition opined that the lawmen now “have blood on their hands”.
According to Dr. Roopnaraine, the meeting with the President dealt specifically with security and not too much on the tariff issue. However, a proposal to have a moratorium on the rates hike did not meet with immediate agreement by the Presidential party.
The Region10 Chairman Sharma Solomon was of the belief that the shootings of protestors were acts of aggression by the police. “Based on the rules of engagement, there was no minimum use of force (here), but the use of maximum force.”
He claimed that the shootings were premeditated since Lindeners were being threatened by the police and their homes being “scoped out” prior to the start of the protest on Wednesday.
He said that he and Vanessa Kissoon met with President Ramotar and his team separately yesterday where demands were also made for the immediate removal of ‘E and F ‘Commander Clifton Hicken, and an independent and international inquiry, to have a clear understanding of events surrounding the shooting.
“This is not a struggle against the people of Linden but a struggle by the people of Linden.”
Solomon argued that it is not unwillingness by Lindeners to pay a rate hike in electricity but an inability to pay.
During the meeting with the President, the Region 10 Chairman also discussed improvements for Linden, including issues of employment, economic measures like the Linden/Lethem road, and reforms to electricity.
Last night, Linden was set to hold a candlelight vigil with preparations to bury its dead.
Solomon was of the opinion that the shootings were tantamount to a “massacre” and “premeditated”.
Yesterday, the AFC in a release on the meeting with the President, said that having due regard for the safety and security of all citizens and especially those in Linden at this difficult time, it entered the discussion in good faith to restore normalcy to Linden and to address immediate steps to investigate the killings.
The party said it tabled four recommendations which included the appointment of an Independent Commission of Inquiry with international agency representation and involvement and a “Good Officer” to manage the process.
It also included the immediate removal of Commander Hicken and ranks involved in the incident, the resignation of the Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee, and a moratorium on the imposition of the rate hike pending a review by a panel of experts.
“This review should include an assessment of the operational costs of BOSAI as well as the impact of these rate hikes on the poorest by way of a means test. The panel’s report should be presented to all stakeholders within 6-8 weeks.”
According to the AFC, the people of Guyana have lost all confidence in the police.
“It was clear to the AFC that the government was not willing to take on board any of these measures, referring instead to the establishment of a group that would produce Terms of Reference for an inquiry but not guaranteeing international input.”
The AFC noted that this approach it considered to be another “talk shop” that could lead nowhere.
“It was clear that the other two parties seemed willing to get into ‘bilateral arrangements’ on this issue.”
The AFC said that there were attempts to turn Wednesday’s events into a political football with racial underpinnings.
“These senseless killings have placed a further stain on Guyana that is no less severe than earlier killings at Lusignan, Bartica, Lindo Creek and the killing of Yohance Douglas, if we are to recall just a few.”
Yesterday also, the Office of the President said the recent tragedy in Linden, Region 10, has created much anguish and led to a determination by the Office of the President to uncover the details of the incident.
“The impact of the loss of lives and injuries to others, the destruction of private and public property, and, the trauma being experienced by the community has led President Donald Ramotar to engage in a series of meetings with stakeholders.”
OP said it remains committed to have a full investigation.
The AFC was represented at the meeting by Raphael Trotman, Speaker of the National Assembly; Cathy Hughes, Nigel Hughes and Gerhard Ramsaroop.
APNU was represented by Granger, Roopnaraine, Harmon and Felix. Present at the “tripartite” meeting for the government were President Ramotar, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, Dr. Roger Luncheon, Gail Teixeira, and Ministers Clement Rohee and Robeson Benn.
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