Mining camp owner George Arokium yesterday maintained his belief that it was unlikely that the Rondel ‘Fineman’ Rawlins gang killed eight miners, including his brother and son, at Lindo Creek in 2008, due to the level of security in the area at time.
Arokium was at the time testifying before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) investigating the killings, which concluded its public hearings yesterday.
The CoI was set up by government to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the killings of Cecil Arokium, Dax Arokium, Horace Drakes, Bonny Harry, Lancelot Lee, Compton Speirs, Nigel Torres and Clifton Berry Wong on or about 21st day of June, 2008 and to report its findings and recommendations to President David Granger.
Arokium, the father of Dax Arokium and brother of Cedric Arokium, has been at the centre of allegations levelled against the Joint Services, which has been accused of being responsible for the miners’ deaths.
It has been speculated that the men were accidentally murdered when the Joint Services came upon their camp, while pursuing members of the ‘Fineman’ gang, with whom they had an encounter on June 6th, 2008, at Christmas Falls. The remains of the miners were discovered on June 21st, 2008.
After being led in evidence by CoI attorney Patrice Henry, Arokium was cross-examined by attorney for the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Leslie Sobers, who sought to establish that all the information fueling Arokium’s allegations were based on hearsay.
When Sobers cross-examined Arokium, he asked that he read a line he missed when he read his statement’s contents to the commission. In that line, Arokium had stated that he “did not check to see if there was anything in the camp” and “cannot say what was stolen or who committed that act.”
Sobers pointed out that after all he was told, he still made that statement to police on the night of June 22nd, when he was interviewed.
Arokium, referencing his statement, had related to the Commission that on June 18th, 2008, Yonette Torres, the mother of Nigel Torres, informed him that she had received information that her son had been shot in the interior. At this point, he said, he had not heard anything from the camp. He later related that it had been about five to six weeks before that he had last made contact with the miners.
Later that night, he said, Yonette called him again and related the same story, and he indicated that he would try to make contact with the camp.
According to Arokium, about 10 minutes after that, he received a call from a man on a private number. The person related that soldiers had shot the men at the camp and burnt their bodies after they realised they had made a mistake.
Arokium said he contacted a Corporal Cooper, who was stationed at the then Police Commissioner’s office to inquire whether any such report had been made to the police. After she made checks, she informed him that no such report was made.
Arokium had reported that after he visited the camp on June 21st and discovered the bodies on the way out of the area, he met with Anthony (only name given), who told him that the mechanic [Clifton Wong] and a “small boy” would frequently go the gate [located along UNAMCO trail] and speak with members of the Joint Services. He allegedly also told him that those Joint Services members had made enquiries into when the miners would “wash.” Arokium said he also met security guards at the gate and they informed him that they knew of what went on.
Upon arrival back in Georgetown on June 22nd, Arokium related that he spoke with the media, and later received a call from the then Prime Minister Samuel Hinds. That very night, he was visited by Hinds, then Commissioner of Police Henry Greene, then Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee and senior police and army officers. Arokium’s statement was taken that same night.
“You made mention of a lot of the things that somebody told you, that somebody else told them, and that’s how you got your information,” Sobers observed.
He questioned whether it was not true that what was told to Arokium by Yvonne Torres was not information she had received from someone else. Arokium, who met the question with some contention, eventually accepted that the statement put to him by Sobers was correct.
Sobers then referred to the phone call Arokium said he received from a man, whose voice he was unfamiliar with.
“So you just got an anonymous telephone call making this serious allegation and you don’t know who it was?” Sobers inquired.
“And you believe that?” Sobers went on.
Arokium said that he believed the claims because they were verified when he got to the camp and found what was related to him.
Arokium related that he is unaware of Anthony’s present location, but when he indicated that he had never met the “small boy” that Anthony had referred to, Sobers stated, “So you don’t even know if the small boy existed?”
Furthermore, Arokium had testified that the security personnel that guard the gate on the UNAMCO trail are usually dressed in civilian clothing, and when asked if he had ever seen soldiers at the gate, he responded no.
“So in essence, Anthony might not even be telling you the truth,” Sobers concluded.
The statements of Anthony Hebert
Because Arokium could not recall Anthony’s full name, Sobers, in order to deduce whether a statement collected from an ‘Anthony Hebert’ found in the police file was taken from the same “Anthony” Arokium had referred to in his own statement, asked the witness if he had had discussions with any other person sharing that name about the killings. He said he had not.
Sobers then asked how Arokium would react to that statement given to the police by Hebert, and proceeded to read an excerpt from said statement:
“I had a conversation with Mr Arokium. I did not tell Mr Arokium that his workers were washing down on the 21st of June, 2008. I did not tell Mr Arokium that Dax assisted the soldiers or Joint Services in cleaning a wild cow. I did not tell Mr Arokium that the mechanic and small boy goes to the UNAMCO gate and talks with the soldiers. I did not tell Mr Arokium that the UNAMCO security knows what happened. I am willing to confront Mr Arokium at any time and to tell him that I did not mention any of those things to him. I also did not mention anything to anyone else.”
“How would you react to that? That you’re being untruthful to this commission?” Sobers questioned.
“Why would you say I’m untruthful?” Arokium returned.
At this point, the commission was informed that Hebert had actually given two other statements—an original and a further statement.
Commissioner Donald Trotman, who is leading the inquiry, asked whether all three statements contained Hebert’s denial of the interaction and was told by Counsel Henry that they did not.
Henry related that the statements included information about Hebert being questioned by soldiers. A portion he read stated, “…when I came out with the truck, one of the soldiers questioned me about when Arokium was washing down. I must mention that while at UNAMCO checkpoint, a soldier asked the security men to assist them cleaning a wild meat….”
No further reference was shared by Henry.
Arokium, asked by Justice Trotman whether he was sure Anthony told him the things he had related to the commission, responded in the affirmative.
Asked by Henry how he arrived at his position that the Joint Services were responsible for the killing of the miners, Arokium said that it was a matter to do with the level of security at the UNAMCO trail. He stated that it was “not an ordinary mining area,” while noting that he himself had difficulties accessing the location before because he could not get past the checkpoint.
Furthermore, he opined that if a person were to venture off the road, they would get lost, as there was one road to access the area.
“The security in the area, people cannot go in there. If you go to fish, to go and fish you have to leave your name, your vehicle number, you have to pay a toll to pass, you got to tell them when you expect to be back…I had legal rights and legitimate reasons to go in and still I was given a hard time,” he related.
“When this thing occurred there were three sets of people in there,” he said, naming the ‘Fineman’ gang, the miners and the Joint Services.
Arokium paused and laughed after listing “Fineman,” causing Henry to enquire what had prompted such a response. Arokium noted that according to the police, Rawlins was cornered at Christmas Falls, which he related is 14 miles from the junction that leads to Lindo Creek. He further noted that the Joint Services had been occupying the gate at the UNAMCO road checkpoint at the time.
“He’s really brave and or he mussy smarter than the Joint Services,” he concluded, adding that he is curious to know how Rawlins had the ability to travel the distance from Christmas Falls to the camp while being pursued.
“This isn’t about ‘Fineman,’ this is about who trying to cover up this whole issue,” he stated.
While the public hearings, which began in March, concluded yesterday, the CoI is expected to receive in-camera testimony and former Prime Minister Hinds and former army Chief of Staff Mark Phillips are expected to be interviewed.