The main sugar union GAWU yesterday expressed concern about testimony in a New York courtroom that members of the army in 2005 moved the bodies of missing sugar workers from the front of Buxton to the backlands and it raised the question as to whether those who have been named shouldn’t be made to provide a response.
Stabroek News has sought to elicit a response from the army hierarchy for several days without success.
Retired Brigadier Edward Collins
The newspaper contacted retired Brigadier Edward Collins, the Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force during that period but he disconnected the call while the reporter was explaining what she was seeking a comment on.
Acting Chief of Staff Colonel Bruce Lovell declined comment when contacted on the matter this week. No one else has said anything on behalf of the army or the government. The Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces is President Bharrat Jagdeo and observers point out that this would also be a matter that he should be interested in commenting on along with the Defence Board.
The testimony about the missing sugar workers was provided by former Roger Khan attorney Robert Simels who is on trial in a New York court for witness tampering. Among other things he testified that senior army officials instructed the removal of the bodies of the sugar workers to the back of Buxton.
The sugar workers went missing in 2005, two each on two occasions, and to date there has been no definitive word on their fate from the army, police or the government.
On May 21 Sampersaud Taranauth of Enterprise and Maikhram Sawh of Non Pareil, East Coast Demerara, disappeared while cleaning a GuySuCo drainage canal aback of Vigilance, the village which borders Buxton. Just over four months later, on September 24, Sookram Dhanai of Non Pareil and Hardat of Annandale also disappeared while guarding punts and other articles at a place called ‘Spring Bridge’ in the Lusignan backlands.
Despite intensive searches spearheaded by the
police and the army, there has never been any trace
of the men–who were all breadwinners for their
families. Both the government and the security
services had come in for criticism over their
failure to find the men.
During his witness tampering trial, Simels testified before the court that three named senior officials who are no longer members of the force, ordered the removal of the bodies of the men from the front to the back of neighbouring Buxton village, East Coast Demerara. No further information was provided. It was unclear which of the two incidents he was referring to.
In its statement yesterday, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) noted the allegations from the US court and asked “Could this be true? Must this be believed? GAWU is cautious, but concerned that …elements of the army have been accused. Long before the New York trial, rumours were persistent on the East Coast, Demerara, of the GDF (personnel working) with the organized criminals. GAWU also notes with interest that the former GDF officers recently named have offered no denials”. Their names were carried in some local media reports.
“Since, based on the testimonies and allegations so far made during the trials, top (government) officials are being accused and hounded for explanations, should not those officers identified in the same court be called upon for a response?”, the union queried.
GAWU again expressed condolences to the four families and added “There might be cold comfort in this type of closure, but GAWU contends that truth and justice might be long in coming but come they eventually will”.
It noted that when in 2005 the four sugar workers disappeared amid the crime wave, it had called on the government and the security services to clear the bush in the backlands. It said the call was made again at the time of the Lusignan massacre in January, 2008 and this call was finally heeded “led principally, by the Guyana Defence Force” which had established a base at the back of Buxton.