President David Granger on Monday insisted that the violent crime spree between 2002 and 2010 was part of a “drug war,” and said that he has been asked by the family of slain Agriculture Minister, Satyadeow Sawh to ensure that there is justice.
“We were faced with a drug war. We were faced with people who were shooting and killing to expand a drug empire,” Granger, a retired Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Brigadier, told the closing session of an Orientation Workshop for newly-appointed diplomats.
He said when he was in Toronto, relatives of Sawh, who was gunned down at his La Bonne Intention (LBI) village in April, 2006, “are approaching me to get justice so it’s not something we can forget.”
Asked after the end of the formal proceedings whether there would be an inquiry into the killing of Sawh, his brother and sister by a gang that waylaid them shortly after they had arrived home late that night, the President restated that there would be a probe of all deaths during that crime spree but he declined to give a time frame. He said a lot of work first has to be done. “I haven’t set a timeline but we are dealing with other issues…We have to do some preliminary work on the evidence before we set up a formal Commission of Inquiry,” he said.
One theory that has been bandied about was that gang members had been hired to kill Sawh because, as the then minister responsible for forestry, he had objected to Kaow Island being possessed by Aurelius Inc; a company whose principal had been now convicted drug lord, Shaheed ‘Roger’ Khan.
The gang had been blamed for massacres in Lusignan and Bartica as well as the gunning down of numerous policemen in the line of duty.
The crime wave began in February 2002 when five dangerous criminals escaped from the Georgetown Prison and almost immediately sought refuge in the East Coast Demerara village of Buxton. Quickly , the gang, armed with assault rifles, had grown and continued almost daily murders, kidnappings and robberies.
Stretching the period back to 2000, the President linked today’s crimes to what had transpired then. “Much of the crime you see taking place in Guyana now came about because many of the children who were four and five years old in 2000 are now 20 and 22 years old. It is the secondary impact of that intense violence that was taking place and that violence was drug-driven and we need to make our country safe and secure again,” he said.
Then opposition activists and one of the escapees, Andrew Douglas, had labeled some gang members “freedom fighters.” Khan, who was subsequently caught in neighbouring Suriname and convicted in New York for cocaine trafficking, had been held with high powered weapons and sophisticated mobile tapping and triangulation location equipment by a Guyana Defence Force (GDF) patrol. Evidence later presented by the manufacturer in a New York court had shown that then Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy had authorised the purchase of such triangulation equipment.
Khan had been named in a United States International Narcotics Control Strategy Report as someone who had had access to a large forestry concession at Kaow Island, Essequibo River- that the Americans had regarded as outpost for drug trafficking. While he had been on the run, Khan had issued several statements in a local newspaper claiming credit for preventing a coup against the then People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration.
The President and his APNU+AFC coalition, which had campaigned heavily that it would make Guyana safe again, cited the need to seal off Guyana’s borders from contraband, drugs and guns. “We need to make this country secure by securing our borders from transnational crime. You can’t wink at back-tracking and nod at contraband smuggling and expect to be safe,” he said.
Among those who had been kidnapped and subsequently released after huge ransoms had been paid had been a number of Trinidadians who had been working on a potable water supply improvement project and then US Embassy Regional Security Officer, Stephen Lesniak while he had been playing golf at the Lusignan Golf Course.