An internal investigation found that the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) had issued guns to an ‘R Corbin’ and the Ministry of National Development in 1976.
Lieutenant Colonel Sydney Charles James, Commander of the GDF’s G2 Branch, made this disclosure yesterday during testimony before the ongoing inquiry into the death of historian and political activist Dr Walter Rodney. The G2 Branch is responsible for providing intelligence and security advice to the Chief of Staff and Units of the GDF.
James provided evidence to the commission on investigations run in 2008 on the provision of weapons from the GDF to external bodies. He had been enlisted in the GDF on March 3, 1980 and was required to respond to a number of questions, presented by the commission, in statement form.
According to James, he had conducted the internal investigation and had discovered that several categories of weapons were issued to a number of external organisations. The investigation, he said, had been ordered by former Chief of Staff of the GDF Gary Best.
The documentation and invoices reviewed during the investigations were from 1976 onwards, James said. Weapons given to external bodies included a large quantity of pistols and accessories, Berettas and accessories, and machine guns.
Some of the listed items were returned while others were not, James further said.
When asked whether a request must be sent to the GDF’s chief of staff for weapons to be given to an external agency, James responded, “I would assume so.”
James revealed that on May 19, 1976, nine Smith and Wesson 9mm pistols along with accessories were issued to an “R. Corbin” of the Ministry of National Development. When asked by lead counsel Glen Hanoman whether “R. Corbin” referred to Robert Corbin, former People’s National Con-gress Reform leader, James said, “Sir, I cannot say that they are one and the same persons.”
During his testimony before the inquiry in June, former House of Israel priest Joseph Hamilton said a member of the PNC, then the ruling party, had armed the group with guns in the late 1970s. He explained that the House of Israel was at the time concerned that the WPA might retaliate because of the “more suppressive” techniques employed by the group to disrupt meetings.
“I recall sometime in 1978, six 9 mm pistols were handed over to the House of Israel…by Mr. Robert Corbin at a premises/building where we met sometimes to coordinate these activities in Barima Avenue, (Bel Air Park) somewhere in the Tobacco Company area on the opposite side.” At the time, Corbin was in charge of the youth arm of the PNC, the Young Socialist Movement (YSM), Hamilton said.
Soon after Hamilton’s testimony, Corbin had denied the man’s statements, adding that he did not even remember Hamilton’s level of involvement during the period being spoken about.
Corbin told Stabroek News that he was not the leader of the YSM and in 1975 he was not at the age where he it would have been acceptable for him to be an active YSM member, let alone in 1978.
During James’ time on the stand yesterday, attorney Basil Williams, representing the interest of the PNCR, questioned the authenticity of the documents presented by the Lieutenant Colonel. “This witness has to satisfy a foundation as to where these documents came from,” Williams pointed out. “I don’t see it in his statements either,” he went on to say.
According to chairman of the commission, Sir Richard Cheltenham, he had only seen the documents about three hours before James started his testimony.
As a result, the session was closed for the day as the commission awaited verification of the documents. It will reconvene today when James will take the stand again to continue giving his evidence.
As part of its mandate, the Commission of Inquiry is tasked with examining and reporting on the actions and activities of the State, including agencies such as the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana National Service, the Guyana People’s Militia and those who were in command and superintendence of these agencies, to determine whether they were tasked with surveillance of and the carrying out of actions and whether they did execute those tasks and carried out those actions against the political opposition for the period January 1, 1978 to December 31, 1980.