Army AK-47s court martial restarts

The Guyana Defence Force has start afresh the court-martialling of Lieutenant Colonel, Tony Ross, who was in charge of the army’s arms store when the 30 AK-47 rifles and five pistols were smuggled out last year.

Colonel Bruce Lovell, one of four officers elevated by President Bharrat Jagdeo last month to head the army’s administration told Stabroek News recently that with the new management team in place there has to be a new court-martial. He said that court has already been convened, but has been adjourned until next month. Lovell is now the new president of the court, replacing Colonel Frank Bispham who was overlooked by Jagdeo for promotion. Retired Justice, Oslen Small has been retained as the judge advocate, while a new attorney has replaced Commodore Gary Best who before his elevation to the army’s top post was the lead lawyer for the GDF. Ross who is the second officer to be court-martialled for the theft of the weapons is being represented by attorneys-at-law, Khemraj Ramjattan and Leslie Sobers.

At the time of the quashing of the court-martial Ross’ lawyers were cross-examining witnesses put forward by the prosecution. Two witnesses were called to give evidence. Ross was the commander of the Ordnance Corps, a unit responsible for the storage and distribution of weapons in the army. He however is the first senior officer to be court-martialled over the disappearance of the weapons, which had sparked widespread public concern. Ross is facing four charges relating to negligence of duty. Warrant officer, John Peters was the first officer to be charged. He was found guilty on an offence relating to the missing weapon, but now retired Chief of Staff, Brigadier Edward Collins used his powers under the Defence Act to remit the sentence. Peters following a court-martial was found guilty on charges of conduct and neglect to the prejudice of good order and military discipline. He was sentenced to one year detention and reduced to the rank of Private. However, on August 16 Collins, utilizing the powers granted him under Section 111 (4) of the Defence Act 15:01, remitted the Warrant Officer’s sentence of detention. In effect it meant that Peters no longer served time in detention, but the army had made it clear that his conviction still stood as did the sentence reducing him to the rank of Private. Additionally, the GDF said that Peters will receive his benefits for serving in the force, but these would be in the rank of Private.

Fourteen of the AK-47 rifles have been recovered so far, most of them found in the hands of criminals connected to the Buxton-based criminal gang.

Meanwhile, in relation to the exercise to recover the missing weapons, senior army sources said that this was an ongoing exercise. The joint services following the theft of the weapons had conducted numerous raids across the Georgetown, East Coast and in Berbice. During the raids the homes of several suspected drug dealers were targeted at which time cocaine and other illegal weapons were seized. However, most of the weapons have been found in the possession of gunmen connected to the Buxton criminal gang. Speaking to Stabroek News earlier this year a senior army officer had disclosed that the GDF had an idea who was responsible for the theft of the weapons.

President Jagdeo at the swearing-in of Commodore Best reiterated that the recovery of the weapons must be a major focus of the new management team and he noted that in his discussions with the officers he mentioned this to them.

The GDF had initially targeted Oliver Hinckson during its search for the weapons, but the former army officer went into hiding until he was caught. With a number of the weapons still outstanding senior army sources had told this newspaper the government had reacted to this by refusing to promote Collins to Major General and side-stepped, his deputy Colonel Paul.

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