Chris McGreal / The Guardian – 2010-05-27 23:55:22
TIVOLI GARDENS, Kingston (May 27, 2010) — Residents of the blighted Kingston neighborhood at the heart of this week’s intense fighting between the man who is allegedly Jamaica’s top drug lord and the army have accused the military of summarily executing unarmed men and indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population.
People living in Tivoli Gardens district say that the armed gangs defending the alleged drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke from arrest retreated on the second day of the confrontation, and that after that they saw soldiers seize unarmed young men and shoot them after capture.
There is widespread evidence of fighting in Tivoli Gardens, including burnt out cars and buildings heavily pockmarked by bullets.
Clusters of women shouted “murderers” at soldiers as troops escorted a group of journalists into a part of Tivoli Gardens that the military says is now relatively secure. Other parts are still sealed off, although it appears increasingly unlikely that Coke, who is wanted for extradition to the US on drug trafficking and arms running charges, will be found in what was for many years his stronghold.
On Bustamante Highway, one of the few men still in the area, David Richards, said he saw soldiers shoot two unarmed men who ran into his house.
“Two men came run in here and the soldier killed them on the second day. The soldiers claimed they was running, but they didn’t have guns. There’s a pool of blood in there,” he said pointing to his house. But the military would not permit outsiders to enter.
A few doors on an elderly woman, Helana Pinnes, pointed to a house opposite and said the army had shot two other young men there. “They take them out of that house, they take them out and kill them. There wasn’t a shoot-out with anybody. You understand? Some of the soldiers came in hostile. They come kill.”
Other women shouted: “The military are lying. Some soldiers came just to kill. I saw them do it,” said one.
Further on, an elderly man, Timothy Macintosh, said he saw the security forces shooting at unarmed people when there was no fighting.
“I was inside when I heard this barrage. By the time I come out here I saw the soldiers and police take over the area completely. They had us trapped in the house. If you come outside, they have sniper rifle that shoots you. So most of these people that died, they didn’t fight,” he said. “The soldiers should be charged with murder.”
Another resident, Veronica Brown, said she was shocked by what she saw. “I’m 98-years-old and I’ve never seen anything like it. Never in Jamaica,” she said, not far from the heavily pockmarked Social Development Commission building.
Jamaica’s official public defender, Earl Witter, has said he is concerned at the relatively high number of people killed in contrast with the number of weapons seized. The death toll is officially put at 73, although it is widely believed to be higher. But the army so far says it has seized only four weapons. Witter says he finds the disparity “curious”.
The lack of weapons also suggests that the armed men loyal to Coke who ruled the area have escaped with their guns.
Amnesty International has called for an investigation into the deaths, saying that “evidence indicates that many of these killings are unlawful”.
There is also concern about the fate of youths as young as 15 who were rounded up by the army, along with almost all the men in the area. The military says it is holding about 500 men to “screen” them. Several mothers in Tivoli Gardens described how their sons were taken from their homes even though they had no connection with the fighting.
Camena Bennett said: “They just told us to get out of the house, go and lay down on the sidewalk. My mother messed herself,” she said. “Then they took my 16 year-old son, Hanif. I’ve no idea where he is.”
Her neighbour, Latoya Thompson, pointed to the flower burst of shrapnel left by a grenade explosion at her front door. “They came to kill us off,” she said.
The deputy police commissioner for the operation, Glenmore Hinds, said the authorities would take accusations of human rights abuses seriously. “The entire operation will be subject to an investigation. Certainly if there is abuse the investigation will bring these out,” he said.
Hinds said of the disparity between the number of dead and guns seized: “We haven’t found the remainder of the guns yet, but they’re out there.”
One of the soldiers on patrol was sanguine about the hostility from residents. “They always hated us. They support the other side,” he said.
Speaking of Coke, Bennett said: “He is respected. He has done a lot of things for the community, commercial wise.”
Bennett was not alone. Other women said that Coke was not looking for a fight, and accused the government of doing Washington’s bidding by trying to arrest him for extradition to the US. “I hope they don’t catch him,” said Pinnes.
Not all the residents were hostile to the troops. Asked how things were, one Rastafarian man said merely: “Everything’s cool man.” Another woman, who declined to give her name, said with a smile: “Nothing happened here. We want some food and money.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.