The intelligence that led the Joint Services to the Rondell ‘Fineman’ Rawlins gang was fed to then president Bharrat Jagdeo by a supporter of the gang, newspaper columnist Freddie Kissoon testified yesterday.
Kissoon, a Kaieteur News columnist who had followed the 2008 massacre extensively, took the stand before the Lindo Creek massacre Commission of Inquiry (CoI) and expressed skepticism at the Joint Services’ account of the events leading to the killings. Police had claimed that the gang members, who were eventually killed during a shootout with lawmen, had been responsible for the deaths of the eight miners.
The CoI has been set up to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the killing of miners Dax Arokium, Cecil Arokium, Clifton Wong, Nigel Torres, Compton Speirs, Bonny Harry, Horace Drakes and Lancelot Lee and report its findings and recommendations to President David Granger.
On June 21st, 2008, after receiving reports that the men had been killed, Leonard Arokium, the owner of the diamond-mining operation, went there and discovered burnt bones and skulls. The two slain Arokiums were his son and brother, respectively.
“…One of the things that bothered me…that is, how the government came to know of the location of ‘Fineman’ and his gang…I thought it strange and unnerving that the police explanation is that the ‘Fineman’ gang crossed over from Christmas Falls and killed the men [the miners] because they told the security forces where the ‘Fineman’ gang is located. Almost a decade after, I still don’t believe that. Not based on the information I had first hand as to who was the person who gave the president that information about ‘Fineman,’” Kissoon stated.
The informant, he related, gained contact with the president through a “close aide” and relayed the information in exchange for a favour from the government of the day. “The person was more than just close to the ‘Fineman’ gang. He was one of the persons who nurtured the gang and provided logistical and resource support to the gang. I don’t think he was a friend of the President. He wanted something from the State or the government that was very vital to his life and he made his choice to relay information—and I think he did that from my source, which I consider reliable…he was facilitated by a close aide of the president to meet with the president and he gave the president that information. It was immediately after the joint squad went to Christmas Falls,” Kissoon testified.
The gang members had reportedly had an encounter with police at Christmas Falls on June 6th, when one of the members was shot and killed and six others escaped.
Apart from his criticism of the police’s account of the circumstances leading to the killings, Kissoon concluded that it was geographically impossible for the ‘Fineman’ gang to have crossed over to Lindo Creek from Christmas Falls while being pursued by the Joint Services.
He testified that in June, 2008, he met with Leonard Arokium, and he contended that based on evidence presented to him it would have been impossible for the members of the gang to achieve the physical feat as claimed by the police.
“…[He said] the security forces are covering up the matter and he would like my intervention as a media operative to tell—I remember his words—to tell the truth. That’s what he said…I remember him distinctly stating: I have proof that the security forces killed my employees and not the ‘Fineman’ gang and I need this to be publicised,” Kissoon told the CoI.
Kissoon said that Arokium presented him with photographs and maps, and spent a considerable amount of time describing the terrain in the area. The two reportedly met for more than two hours at the headquarters of the Catholic Standard, in the presence of its editor and two others who accompanied Arokium.
“I think the essential point that he wanted to get over was that it was logistically impossible for the ‘Fineman’ gang to have crossed over from Christmas Falls to Lindo Creek to kill his camping partners and his [son and brother] based on the fact that they were being pursued by the security forces,” he stated.
Kissoon said that his conclusion on the matter was based on Arokium’s evidence, as well as other information gathered from Joint Services members through interviews.
Kissoon, along with a colleague, the late Dale Andrews, had both followed and reported on the Lindo Creek massacre.
Asked by Chairman of the CoI Justice (Rtd) Donald Trotman if he thought it was important to have an onsite visit of Lindo Creek, Kissoon said that while he, along with Andrews, had attempted to do so, he did not think that visiting the site would have had an impact on the conclusion drawn.
“…We took the angle, myself and Dale Andrews, that… the ‘Fineman’ gang was not involved. There were too many unanswered questions…there were too many incongruous directions in confrontation with the police explanation,” Kissoon said.
“…I spoke to Arokium again. Arokium would call, saying someone had been using my son’s cellphone and I remember trying to ask the Commissioner of Police Henry Greene to discuss the matter…he just didn’t bother to answer, so I felt he didn’t want to answer,” the witness recalled, recounting that the late Police Pommissioner had changed the subject and brushed him off.
Kissoon testified that he had spoken with several members of the police force during his period of investigation, but could never manage to get information out of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) ranks. His conclusion was that it was an “elite contingent” that led the operation at Christmas Falls in June, 2008. Kissoon stated that he knew it was a member of the GDF that led the squad to Christmas Falls, but said he was unable to get anyone to relay the officer’s name or rank.
Also testifying yesterday was Onicka Butts, the widow of Dax Arokium, who testified to the man heading to the camp with a Nokia cellphone is his possession. There were reports that weeks after the massacre, a text message was sent to a friend of the deceased requesting credit. It was believed that the text was sent by Dax but that he lost signal before it was transmitted.
The CoI hearings are being held at the Department of the Public Service, on Waterloo Street, Georgetown. The next hearing of the commission will take place on March 13th.