Army weapons issued to ‘R. Corbin,’ ministry were never returned

-Walter Rodney inquiry told

A comprehensive audit has revealed that a number of weapons issued by the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) to ‘R. Corbin,’ the Ministry of National Development and other external agencies in the latter part of the 1970s were never returned, according to Lieutenant Colonel Sydney Charles James.

Two of those weapons, James yesterday testified before the inquiry into the death of Walter Rodney, were found in the Mahaicony Creek area in 2008 following a shootout involving criminals.

He presented several documents, including weapons vouchers, which catalogued a long list of weapons, including high powered guns and accessories that were issued to external agencies.

James, who is the head of the army’s G2 branch, returned to the stand yesterday to continue his evidence at the inquiry.

During his testimony, he acknowledged that the first page of a document he had in his possession showed that 23 of 38 weapons were never returned.

A report dated January 11, 2008, which was prepared by James, was tendered as an exhibit. James, reading the contents of the document which he had presented to the then Chief of Staff, said that after weapons were found at Mahaicony Creek, a check by G2 branch of the list of weapons issued to the external agencies revealed that one was issued to ‘Comrade Skeete,’ Ministry of National Development in 1976, while another was issued to the same person on August 10, 1979. These weapons and others which were issued by the army were never returned. Asked if weapons were given permanently or on loan, he said that his research found that some of the issues were permanent, and especially to the joint services.

James noted that weapons were issued to joint services and paramilitary organisations, including the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Prison Service, the Guyana National Service, the Guyana People’s Militia, the Guymine Constabulary and the Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU). The Ministry of National Development was also identified as being issued with army weapons. “Based on my investigations I haven’t seen weapons given to other ministries but other organisations,” he said, while noting that the weapons and accessories that were issued to the ministry included 15 assault rifles and G3 rifles, which are combat rifles similar to the AK-47. What was issued to the ministry was listed on vouchers, which were tendered as evidence. He said that while he could not say by just looking at the documents that permission for the issuance came from the Defence Board, to him “seemingly the procedure was followed.” He added that the presence of a reference number on the vouchers led him to this belief.

James said that some of the joint services organisations that received weapons were subsequently disbanded and the weapons should have been returned. In relation to the Guyana Police Force, some of the weapons were on loan and some were permanent, he added. He said based on the army’s records, the Guyana Prison Service returned weapons. The Ministry of National Development also returned some.

James said that records for each weapon is kept and that the relevant information would be entered into ledgers–a general ledger and another kept by each unit of the GDF. The weapons voucher would also have information pertaining to the weapons, he said.

James was unable to ascertain the exact count of how many weapons are outstanding but undertook to provide that information when he returns to the stand today.

James explained that for weapons to be given to external agencies, permission had to come from the Defence Board. He said that thereafter instructions would then be given by the Chief of Staff to the commanding officer for the weapons to be issued.

James, whose research on the missing weapons covered 1976 to present, was also questioned about a document titled the ‘Account Form,’ which apparently logged arms transferred from the army to the House of Israel through the People’s National Congress (PNC), the party then in government. It is purported to bear the signature of late colonel Godwin McPherson, although former Chief of Staff Major General (rtd) Norman McLean has cast doubt on its authenticity.

James said he had seen a similar form but noted that he was unaware of the document, while attorney Basil Williams, who is representing the PNCR’s interest at the inquiry, questioned why the witness was being showed that document when “he was not there during that era.” Commission chairman Sir Richard Cheltenham indicated that the witness was given a duty to investigate and “he went back before his time. So, there is a lot of questions that he can answer.”

Later, James said that he never came across a form in which a request was made by the PNC to the GDF for arms that was then issued to the House of Israel.

Sir Richard asked the witness to explain, in his own words, what he understood by the words “totally chargeable to PNC,” which were printed at the top of the document. James said it suggested that the party had a weapons account with the GDF. He said that he doesn’t believe that this was accurate as his research did not reveal such information. He added that he was not familiar with the signature on the document.

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