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PM: T&T cannot force Venezuela to release five
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has stated categorically that no pressure would be placed on the Venezuelan authorities to release the five T&T muslims who are still in custody in Caracas. Five months ago, on March 19, Wade Charles, Dominic Pitilal, Asim Luqman, Andre Battersby and Leslie Daisley, along with 17 other T&T nationals, were detained on allegations of terrorism after the Venezuelan intelligence agency Sebin raided their hotel rooms.
Persad-Bissessar publicly spoke on the issue for the first time, recently, as she addressed a massive gathering of Muslims, who were invited to her official residence at the Diplomatic Centre in Port-of-Spain. “For those who believe that we can invade Venezuela to release our citizens, that cannot happen in that manner. In the same way, if we are holding Venezuelans, they cannot come here and invade. I know that it is hurting the community and it hurts us but we are doing all that we can in a responsible manner.
“Where there are national security matters, it will not be prudent for the Government to act outside of the bounds of those.” She assured the Muslim community that the detainees were being treated properly. Prior to the PM’s address, head of the Anjuman Sunnat-ul-Jamaat Association, Haji Yacoob Ali, made a plea to Persad-Bissessar for government’s intervention.
Spokesperson for the detainees, Nafeesa Mohammed, yesterday said she was grateful that Persad-Bissessar had broken her silence on the matter. She added, however, that although the PM had indicated they were doing their best, she believed they could do more at the diplomatic level. She said the Government had been asked to consider sending an experienced diplomat who could negotiate and discuss the matter with the highest officials in the Venezuelan government.
She cited the example of the diplomatic mission that years ago secured the release of T&T footballer David Nakhid who was locked up in Lebanon. “The Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran must use the highest level of diplomacy there is available to him in this matter. I ask the question: Has he made any efforts to speak to his counterpart, the Minister of Internal Affairs in Caracas?”
Mohammed disclosed that a diplomatic note was sent in July containing information about the detainees, including the information that they had no previous convictions for terrorism. Mohammed also took notes to the families of the detainees, who, she said, were suffering.
“These men were the bread winners in the family. Right now we are trying to get help to ensure that their children get help for school, the buying of their school books, uniforms. We were even surprised to know that some of their children have been out of school since the detention.” Mohammed urged Persad-Bissessar to meet with the affected families.
“I am willing to sit and discuss this with the Prime Minister. She is in charge and has the power to co-ordinate further efforts. I have also been trying to reach Dookeran for a meeting and he has not been responding to my calls and text messages.” When contacted, Dookeran said the detainees’ matter was adjourned to August 18. He said the matter was being dealt with and diplomatic channels were being pursued.
When told that Mohammed claimed that she was trying to meet with him and asked if he would meet with her, Dookeran said, “I have not been told that she is trying to meet with me.”