Eighteen men are now in police custody in Guyana and Suriname in connection with the brutal April 27th attack on fisherfolk in Surinamese waters which is now being treated as a reprisal crime by authorities in both countries.
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done. It seems to be that the basis for this gruesome, heinous and dastardly act had to do with some form of retaliation for one of the persons in custody whose brother was allegedly gunned down in a drive by shooting…in Suriname”, acting Police Commissioner David Ramnarine told reporters during a press conference yesterday. He assured that the Guyana Police Force is working closely with their counterparts in the neighbouring country to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The attack which occurred on the night of April 27 has left three dead and 12 missing.
The murder victim referred to by Ramnarine has been identified as 40-year-old Guyanese Somnauth Manohar who up to the time of his death was residing in Suriname. He was also the owner of several fishing boats. He was killed on March 30th.
Ramnarine told reporters that from day one, Guyana law enforcement officials have been in “constant and intensive collaboration” with authorities in Suriname. He noted that he himself is in contact with officials there including the Police Commis-sioner.
With regards to the investigation, he said that the police here have three persons in custody. He said that while the press has reported that these persons are suspects, there is nothing at this point that confirms that they were participants in the attack.
“They are in custody as a result of information received and it is not definitive at this point in time as to the nature of any involvement or the extent of any involvement at this point in time”, he said.
He explained that ranks did receive some information from some fishermen “which seems to have placed one of the persons in custody at a certain area in Suriname prior to the departure of fishermen and a certain conversation would have unfolded but that is as far as we have at this point in time”, he said, adding that while ranks have managed to secure detailed statements there is a lot more work to be done to “get to the bottom of it”.
Ramnarine told reporters that the first four victims of the April 27th attack who made reports to the police provided call names for the perpetrators, two of whom were identified as `Crackhead’ and `Dick’. These two, he said are among the first batch of 12 suspects. Another three he said were arrested on Monday afternoon bringing the total number of suspects in Suriname to 15.
Four boats were attacked by five suspected pirates in Surinamese waters two Fridays ago. Each boat was said to have been carrying five passengers, including four fishermen and a boat captain, most of whom were Guyanese. Sixteen were said to be missing after the attack.
Four men who survived the attack were rescued initially, and then a fifth survivor was found last Thursday. In the first instance, the survivors were Darmandew Persaud, Anil Lall, 18, Marvin (only name provided) and a Surinamese national, whilst Sherwin Lovell, 42, was found last Thursday.
Search and rescue
During the search and rescue operation which has been ongoing since the attack, three bodies were spotted by an airplane on Wednesday, at various points. On Thursday, one of the bodies, identified by relatives as that of Danesh Persaud, was retrieved, while the other two were recovered from the Wia Wia Bank area on Friday. The three bodies are being held at a mortuary in Paramaribo for official identification by DNA testing.
The missing men who have been identified are: Tilaknauth Mohabir, 50, also known as ‘Kai’; Ganesh Beharry, Ralph Anthony Couchman, 19, also known as ‘Burnham’; Ramesh Sancharra, 48; Glenroy Jones, 21; Ramnarine Singh; Bharat Heeralall also known as “Record”, 49; Sunil known as Poddock, Mahesh Sarjoo, 35 and Rajkumar Bissessar. Three other fishermen are still to be identified.
Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan who hosted yesterday press conference informed that at the moment it is a murder investigation that is being conducted in Guyana as well as in Suriname.
He did not conclusively say how many suspects may have fled here. According to the minister from all the information being gathered so far it is pointing to a set of people. “That is as much I can …(say) as to the identities of the people (suspects) it is preferable that the police do their work”, he said, when asked whether Surinamese officials have provided information about any suspects fleeing to Guyana and if they were actively looking for anyone.
Ramjattan spoke about his visit to Suriname on Sunday which he said occurred more than a week after the incident because of his work commitments here. He said that during the meeting, he and members of his team were given a step by step account of how things unfolded, were given an update on the investigation being conducted by Surinamese officials and there were discussions about improved collaborative efforts to effectively patrol and secure the high seas. He and members of his team, which included three senior officers, also met with relatives of the victims.
“We are hoping that we are still going to have survivors”, he said, while adding that government will do whatever it can to support the relatives and friends. “We promised that we are gonna do moral, psychological and financial”, he said, adding that Suriname has also given a similar commitment. Government, he said, will decide whether long-term financial assistance will be given to the relatives of the victims.
Meanwhile, Ramjattan told reporters that the suspects arrested here can be extradited to Suriname to face trial and can be charged here in keeping with the existing legislation.
Ramjattan was asked if any of the three held in Guyana if found to be culpable could be returned to Suriname in the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries.
In response, Ramjattan said that the countries do share mutual legal assistance treaties as a result of conventions that both countries have signed onto. He said there are “methods… if they request certain persons that they can, in my opinion, send them across. Murder is an offence with a jurisdiction that is international and I do not know all the legal courses that could be taken but I rather suspect that even if we don’t we could charge them here in Guyana …and ask that the witnesses …come across”.
Ramnarine interjected saying that Guyana’s anti-piracy legislation provides for persons to be charged here even though the offence was committed in another jurisdiction. “We have used that legislation in the past successfully”, he said.
It was pointed out that the Surinamese officials are proposing that regulations for the fishing sector be established. These, according to the minister, include the establishment of check points to record the number of persons as well of the identities of those who go out in the fishing boats, from where they left and when they returned and the creation of a fishing vessel monitoring system.
While acknowledging that aerial monitoring and coast guard patrols have assisted in keeping pirate attacks in Guyana’s waters at bay for almost three years, he said that the recent incident underscores the importance of beefing up efforts on both sides.
He said that the complement of available resources will be increased, noting that it was for this reason that government had a supplementary budget before the National Assembly for monies to purchase fixed wing aircraft.
“We need to ensure that our borders are properly surveilled and monitored. That is what we propose…getting drones. These are things that could create the necessary deterrent effect but the greatest thing is the people themselves. When they get the information… that because of what might happen, there will be a tit-for-tat and then they come and warn the police so that we can take precautionary measures and preventative measures…if they just remain silent, as I have said before silence then becomes violence,” he said, while stressing on the need for a community that is more willing to share information with law enforcement authorities. “We shut up and say `that is nah we business’. Well everything is our business and we must learn…that yes we must come out and speak out”, he stressed.
Ramjattan used the occasion to stress that retaliation is not the way to solve disputes. He said that fishing communities will have to understand that “it is a tough job… you just don’t go and take the law into your own hands… That is wholly atrocious thinking”, he said while adding that the governments will have to plead with fishermen to get transponders and better radios systems on their boats. “It will cost some money but if they are under attack they can radio in….and create deterrent effects. That is an important thing. Better check points”, he said.