SENIOR military officers who were on the ground pursuing one of the country’s most notorious gangs between Kwakwani and Christmas Falls in the Upper Berbice River back in 2008 were interviewed as the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the Lindo Creek Massacre continued on Wednesday.
Among the soldiers who were interviewed were: Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd Souvenir, Lieutenant Colonel Sheldon Howell, Lieutenant Colonel Omar Khan and retired Lieutenant Colonel Fitzroy Warde. They were interviewed behind closed doors by Chairman of the Lindo Creek CoI, Justice (Retired) Donald Trotman and the commission’s Attorney, Patrice Henry at the CoI Secretariat, which is housed in the Department of the Public Service, Waterloo Street, Georgetown.
The military men are being represented by Attorneys-at-Law Leslie Sobers and Roysdale Forde, in addition to two in-house GDF attorneys, one of whom is Colonel Michael Shahoud.
On the sideline of the ‘interviews’, Sobers told reporters that the senior GDF officers were commanders on the ground at the time the Joint Services were hunting the Rondell “Fineman” Rawlins gang. “They were on the ground. They were conducting certain military operations and so they are enlightening the commission as to the role of the military during that period of time,” Sobers told reporters.
The commission, over the weekend, had issued a public notice calling for eight Joint Services ranks to make urgent contact with the secretariat. Lieutenant Colonel Omar Khan was not among the eight, but he accompanied his colleagues on Wednesday, on the basis that he was an intelligence officer operating on the ground at the time. Sobers said the GDF is making special efforts to contact those persons who are no longer part of the military. “The army may not be able to contact every single junior soldier who has left the job, but I can tell you this morning one of the retired senior officers was contacted and came all the way from the interior to attend this interview, along with three who are on strength,” the attorney said.
The commission’s Attorney Henry, in a separate interview with this newspaper, said that the three military men and the ex-GDF officer will form part of a pool of witnesses that will take the stand when public hearings resume. However, he was unable to indicate when the public hearings will recommence.
Henry noted that the GDF officers who were interviewed by the commission on Wednesday, were in 2008 deployed to the Kwakwani-Christmas Falls catchment area where it was suspected that “Fine Man” was hiding out. Lindo Creek, where the eight diamond miners’ charred remains were found, is located approximately 10 miles downriver from Christmas Falls.
Henry also disclosed that from the list published in the local newspapers, former Guyana Police Force Assistant Superintendent Dwand Cambridge and Philbert Bobb have been in contact with the commission, and are assisting with the investigation.
Outgoing Commissioner of Police Seelall Persaud, who was the country’s crime chief at the time, and Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifton Hicken, who were a part of a police operation had placed the “Fine Man” Gang at Christmas Falls on June 6, 2008. The police and the gang were reportedly engaged in a fierce gun battle, which resulted in one of the criminals being shot dead.
According to both Persaud and Hicken, after the shooting incident they were instructed by the then Commissioner of Police Henry Green to return to Police Headquarters in Georgetown. The Joint Services reportedly took over the operation.
Leonard Arokium, the owner of the mining camp, who had discovered the charred remains of the eight diamond miners – Cecil Arokium, Dax Arokium, Horace Drakes, Bonny Harry, Lancelot Lee, Compton Speirs, Nigel Torres and Clifton Berry Wong – on June 21, 2008 at the Lindo Creek camp site, had long argued that the killings were committed by members of the Joint Services; but the police have maintained that the men were murdered by the then Rondell Rawlins alias “Fine Man” gang. Arokium’s son, Dax, 29; his brother, Cedric called “Brother” were among those killed. One of the key witnesses, Courtney Wong, in an interview with this newspaper earlier this month, had said that the “truth is out there.”
The Justice Trotman-led commission is enquiring into the circumstances surrounding the killings. The findings and recommendations are expected to be submitted to President David Granger this month-end. However, the commission’s attorney said it is likely that an extension will be requested due to the volume of work still to be done, including of public hearings and a visit to the crime scene at Lindo Creek.