PRESS STATEMENT By Leader of the People’s National Congress Reform & Leader of the Opposition, MR. ROBERT H. O. CORBIN Wednesday 16 January 2008 Media Centre Congress Place, Sophia
I have elected to hold this Press Conference today in view of the unfortunate statement made by the General Secretary of the PPP, Mr. Donald Ramotar, and the Press Conference held by President Jagdeo on January 15th, concerning the discovery of weapons at Zeskendren, Mahaicony on January 9th last.
Let me begin with a careful narrative of the events. The Police in a statement on Wednesday last said that around 2:00 pm ranks responded to information that a boat with a number of men was seen in the Zeskendren, Mahaicony drainage canal area. When challenged, the men opened fire and when fire was returned by the Police they abandoned the boat and escaped into the thick bush north of the canal. A subsequent search led to the finding of a wooden boat with an outboard engine. Weapons and ammunition were also found.
Two of the weapons were subsequently determined to be the property of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). The GDF, for its part, claimed that the weapons were issued to the Ministry of National Development and Mobilisation in 1976 and 1979. Yesterday I commended the army created by Mr. Forbes Burnham, and which in the past has been vilified by the PPP, for its ability to keep such good records that they could trace the ownership of weapons thirty (30) years after they were issued. I do so again at this Press Conference.
In a clear attempt to politicize this development, the PPP cranked up its propaganda machinery into high gear. First, even before the matter was placed into the public domain, the PPP dispatched journalists from the state-controlled National Communication Network (NCN) to interrupt my attendance at a Party meeting on Saturday, January 12th by seeking a comment on the discovery of weapons at Zeskendren and a response from an alleged statement by Mr. Ramotar. Right on cue, Mr. Ramotar held a Press Conference at which, among other things, he called on the PNCR to “come clean” and tell the nation how many weapons it allegedly took from the GDF. Mr. Ramotar actually implied that the Party of which I am Leader placed these weapons in the hands of criminals. This is not surprising coming from him as he is famous for putting his foot in his mouth and it is no different this time. As I informed sections of the media, even if the weapons were issued to the Ministry of National Development and Mobilisation it was entirely a Government arrangement, since the Ministry was part of the State. The weapons were therefore issued to a Government Ministry and not the Party. In particular, I asserted that the PPP was making these allegations about missing weapons to divert attention away from the credible allegations of torture made against the Administration. I have no reason to change my opinion.
The PNCR would therefore be pursuing the issue of torture with the same vigor as before and will not be side-track by the unearthing of matters of a national security and intelligence nature which occurred some thirty (30) years ago. The PNCR is concerned with the present and not the past. It is the wish of our Party that the security forces be allowed to do their jobs, including the apprehension of criminals, drug lords, pirates, gun runners and stamp out corruption in high places in the society. In this regard, instead of making baseless and stupid statements, Mr. Ramotar should concern himself with ensuring that his party convinces the nation that it is not in bed with the drug lords and is therefore not condoning the narcotic trade which has fuelled the trade in guns and creating a large criminal enterprise in our country.
In the meantime, and consistent with the position that the PPP is taking, the state controlled Chronicle and NCN, all sought to sensationalized an issue, which, in the interest and stability of this nation, ought to have been treated with sobriety and prudence. The state controlled NCN in particular in its newscast on Tuesday, presented the finding of the weapons in lurid light and gave the impression that the Leader of the Opposition might be guilty of some offence.
I took careful note of the mood and tone of the Press Conference held by President Jagdeo on the 15th January. Unlike the General Secretary and the state controlled NCN, the Head of State said that his wish was that the matter not be politicized. I am not a reader of minds, but I am sure that President Jagdeo must have realized that, in a racially divided society such as ours, shouting from the roof tops is not the best way to manage an issue as sensitive as the discovery of missing weapons. President Jagdeo also said that there will be an inquiry into the weapons which were issued to State Agencies by the Army and the Police since the fifties to the present time.
I have absolutely no problem with the Administration’s plan to hold such an inquiry and that would have my fullest co-operation. However, I cannot help but note that it has moved with commendable speed in this instance, but has dragged its feet over similar investigation into the death squads, the phantom gangs, the container of weapons which one of its supporters illegally imported into this country, and the issuing of literally thousands of gun- licenses to PPP/C supporters by the former Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Ronald Gajraj.
Further, I dearly wish that President Jagdeo and his Administration had taken such a serious interest in the very obvious proliferation of high powered arms in the hands of criminals over the past eight years.
• Why was there no serious response to an inquiry after several instances of major arms busts that involved known ‘drug lords’ who more recently have claimed to be providing support for the Security Forces?
• Why no inquiry into the source of the computer laptop found with Roger Khan and an active member of the Guyana Police Force at that time?
• Where is the laptop used by Roger Khan and his cohorts and why was the Army Intelligence Unit dissuaded from pursuing certain leads during that particular period of the worst crime spree ever experienced in this country?
• Why was there a refusal to hold an inquiry into the violence on the East Coast of Demerara and other parts of Guyana despite a united call by all the Opposition Parties at that time?
• Why was there no inquiry into the wanton killings of several young men mostly of African descent who became the victims of the alleged ‘Phantom Death Squad’?
I would not venture to speak on behalf of the past PNC Administration and the policy adopted three (3) decades ago with respect to the issue and distribution of guns to a State Agency. This matter should be examined in the context of the security conditions that existed at that time in our country. The question of the issuing of weapons to state agencies in the seventies and eighties has a specific context. This was a troubling and challenging period in our history.
There were critical events which occurred at this time. One such event was in 1976 when Guyana faced yet another challenge to its sovereignty from Venezuela. The then PNC Administration had to craft strategies to counter the aggression from our Western neighbour. In search of such a strategy the PNC was aided by an important development. The PPP, despite three previous years of promoting instability, agreed to hold talks with the PNC in a spirit of national reconciliation. It was during these talks that the then Leader of the PPP, Dr Cheddi Jagan, who was suspicious of the GDF, proposed the formation of a People’s Militia. I can do no better than quote from the Library of Congress:
“The People's Militia was created in 1976 during a period of heightened tension along the Guyana-Venezuela border. Proposed by opposition leader Cheddi Jagan, the militia was envisioned as a more ethnically diverse force than the GDF, which it would replace. Jagan saw the militia as a popular organization that would have branches on every city block and in every village. The government agreed to form the People's Militia, but only as a supplemental security force. Militia members were to engage in their normal occupation until war broke out, at which point they would defend their communities and assist the regular forces.”
The Party notes the President’s, recent Press Conference statement about not wishing to politicize this investigation and will be monitoring developments in this regard to ensure that it is not used as an excuse for a political witch hunt. In this regard, he is advised to curb the irresponsible utterances of his General Secretary, Donald Ramotar and the wild excesses of the state controlled NCN.
People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia
Wednesday, 16 January 2008
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