PNM chairman Franklin Khan’s opening statements at Wednesday’s PNM Macoya Divali celebration noted that Divali transcends politics.
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Laventille residents still cry: Soldiers abusing us
Allegations of abuse by members of the T&T Regiment continue. This time two men from the Desperlie Crescent, Laventille, area say soldiers physically abused them. The men—Ishmael Job and Brandon Granger—showed cuts and bruises they say they suffered at the hands of soldiers. Since the June 29 shooting death of Lance Cpl Kayode Thomas, residents of Laventille have claimed soldiers have been patrolling the area without police and have been engaging in illegal activities, such as searching homes and “arresting” people.
An eyewitness said yesterday Job and Granger, who both work with the Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP), were accosted by the soldiers around 8 am yesterday. The very agitated man, who was cheered on by others, said: “It was real gunbutt, all in the men face. I was in a yard, I walk outside and see the galvanise shaking. I start to call people.
“Them wasn’t talking, them was just beating people. No mask, nothing and the soldiers laughing. It had plenty of them... seven or eight was beating the man. They pull a man out of a car and buss he head.” The man added that the soldiers also shot at unarmed civilians. People living at Desperlie Crescent claim the soldiers were being paid with alcohol and other inducements to assault them.
Asked to comment on the latest allegations, public liaison officer for the regiment, Capt Stefan Affonso, said the difficulty with addressing the claims was that no formal complaint had been made. He asked for the men and any others who may have been abused by soldiers to make a report either to the nearest police station or the regiment.
Army: No police needed
Speaking in an interview last week Friday on radio station I95 FM, Major Arden Williams said the T&T Regiment could patrol without the police. He added that soldiers patrol ahead of police officers and that too was part of the joint patrols between police and soldiers. He also said acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams had contacted Chief of Defence Staff Major Gen Kenrick Maharaj to ask for assistance and that the Defence Force would not sit idly by while the crime scourge continued.
“We have had, over the past months, joint patrols being under attacks by gunmen taking up strongholds in trenches and we have gone into the area and dominated the vantage points and denied the space of the individuals,” Major Williams said. Asked if the increased presence of soldiers was due to the June 29 murder of Lance Cpl Kayode Thomas, Williams said no. Williams said the death of Thomas was the culmination of attacks in the Laventille area by criminal elements.
Asked whether he gave permission for soldiers to operate independently, the acting CoP said that would be illogical. He added that he could not give any orders to soldiers to operate on their own as they were under the purview of the Chief of Defence Staff. He confirmed he had sought the assistance of the regiment but denied having sanctioned independent patrols by soldiers.
The regiment admitted yesterday soldiers interacted with the guard in the car park but said the guard only asked them to move their vehicle which they did. “CCTV footage made available to the T&T Defence Force Investigations Unit revealed that the soldiers did not rush in or even enter the Guardian Media Ltd building but remained in the car park for a short time before leaving,” the statement said. No police officers accompanied the soldiers nor did the release state the reason why the soldiers were on the compound.
In relation to claims that the regiment was “hunting” Skeete, the statement said that was not the case but issued an open invitation for Skeete and his lawyer to visit regiment headquarters” at any time suitable to him to discuss any concerns that he may have. “Other operations referred to by Mr Skeete were police-led and supported by soldiers,” it added. Skeete and his relatives claimed otherwise.
The statement added: “In the conduct of these operations, there are allegations made by members of the public that there have been abuses of power by soldiers. “It is critical to emphasise that the regiment has thoroughly investigated and will continue to investigate all reports of abuse and discipline accordingly in its stand to preserve law and order.
“The regiment, as an arm of the Defence Force, stands steadfast to support all arms of law enforcement in the fight against criminal elements in our communities and remains committed to the preservation of law and order and the protection and safety of all citizens.”
Managing director of Guardian Media Ltd Lisa Agard assured the company was giving its full co-operation to the regiment but had also made an official complaint to the police. She added: “They (the army investigators) told us that as a consequence of what they read in the Guardian they came to investigate what had happened, in particular with the soldiers. “So we allowed them to interview two people who interacted with the soldiers,” Agard said.
Wesley Gibbings, general secretary of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), described Monday’s incident as ”an outrageous turn of events” and demanded that it should be thoroughly and fairly investigated. “It is unacceptable and it must be seen as a threat against press freedom,” Gibbings said. He said the journalists involved in the story were not in breach of any law and it was easy to conclude that the approach by the military was intimidatory.
PM must speak— PNM
The Prime Minister and the Attorney General owe the country a duty to say what exactly is the role and function of soldiers as Monday’s incident was a clear breach of their functions said public relations officer of the PNM Senator Faris Al-Rawi. He was fielding questions from the media during yesterday’s break in the Senate.
Describing the matter as a serious cause for concern, Al-Rawi said: “The allegations are that the Defence Force came in hot pursuit of a cold case, having been tipped off that somebody had come to speak to the media. “When that person didn’t appear, then a bomb scare mysteriously happened, as a result of which the building had to be evacuated. “If any of that has a tie-in to the actions of the soldiers involved in that pursuit, then we are in serious trouble.”
He said it was conspicuous that the AG had nothing to say and it was habitual that the Prime Minister would have nothing to say.
On the Hunt
Soldiers have been searching several areas after Thomas was murdered on June 29. Relatives of Skeete claimed masked soldiers had searched their homes in Couva, Champs Fleurs, East Dry River, and Toco.