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Acting Police Commissioner instructs cops: Arrest rogue soldiers
Rogue soldiers found to be carrying out unlawful operations and physically abusing citizens will be arrested and charged. However, several reports in the media about residents of Laventille and east Port-of-Spain being beaten by soldiers are yet to be reported to the Defence Force. Public relations officer of the regiment, Captain Stefan Alfonso, said the regiment had not received any official reports of soldier-abuse or complaints by residents.
He, however, assured investigations have begun into the reports highlighted in the media. Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams, during an interview with I95.5 FM morning programme, said the reports of abuse in some communities were worrying. "I have directed my officers that if they get any reports in relation to soldiers abusing citizens and carrying out searches, they need to investigate those matters and if necessary prosecute these soldiers, just as we, the police, prosecute our police officers. “Just as police, if soldiers fail to fulfill their duties and responsibilities and commit criminal offences they will also be prosecuted," Williams said. He insisted he did not request soldier patrols independent of the police and added that in January he requested joint police/army patrols.
On Wednesday, Williams, speaking at a media briefing, said the joint/army patrols came into effect in 2003 and fell under the unit of the Inter-agency Task Force with a focus on operating in high-risk communities. He added that this year additional demands were made for the support of the Defence Force when there were 19 murders recorded in seven days. He said discussions were held with the Chief of Defence Staff, Major Gen Kenrick Maharaj, who has expressed concerns but made it clear soldiers could be deployed to any part of the country for patrols by Maharaj. "The issue has to do with what the soldiers do when they are outside there when Maharaj sends them. The soldiers searching, exercising police powers and authority, are not authorised to do such," Williams said.
He insisted he could not make suggestions to pull back soldiers from patrols but warned them to adhere to the law. National Security Minister, Gary Griffith who also spoke on the radio programme, said soldiers who breached the law and regulations could be jailed. "If there are reports on soldiers... in the Defence Force you automatically go to jail until you can be proven innocent. The Defence Force can quickly investigate reports of abuse within its ranks but there must be an official report. ”Soldiers are trained to patrol and bring stability to troubled areas and they cannot make arrests and carry out searches without the police," Griffith added.
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