Public defender says 44 killed
Mark Beckford & Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporters
No fewer than 44 Jamaicans have been killed in the clashes between security forces and gunmen in west Kingston, according to Public Defender Earl Witter.
Witter, Political Ombudsman Herro Blair and Jamaica Red Cross officials visited Tivoli Gardens yesterday to conduct an independent assessment of the operations being carried out by the security forces.
"The police, I gather, have put out a figure of some 26 dead so far. Our own head count supercedes that. In fact, we visited the morgue and were told that no fewer than 35 bodies were lodged there, and most of them were males, mainly young adults," Witter told The Gleaner late last night.
Witter said that while he was at the morgue, a crew was leaving to go to Lizard Town area to gather another nine bodies. He said that his information suggests that the number will rise.
Witter said that he could confirm that a pregnant woman had died, but not from injuries associated with the stand-off.
He said during the tour of sections of Tivoli Gardens under the control of the security forces, the team saw two male bodies in the vicinity of the Bustamante Highway in an area called 'Back Ten'. Witter also said that the team did not find any evidence of bodies being burnt in Tivoli Gardens to support the allegation.
He said that the team was not able to tour all of Tivoli because other areas were still barricaded. There were only women and children in the areas to which the team was granted access, Witter said.
The public defender said the team brought the condition of the children to the attention of the security forces.
Salmon promised, in conjunction with Blair, to coordinate the provision of food supplies, particularly to young and lactating mothers, Witter said.
Witter also said Tivoli residents had expressed fear. He received reports of the elderly not being able to access medication and persons who were shot and injured being unable to get medical attention.
He said the team saw two destroyed dwellings in the community. These dwellings, he said, had been burnt out. Residents claimed they were bombed.
At a press briefing earlier in the day, the security forces dismissed claims that excessive force was used against residents in Tivoli Gardens.
Army Colonel Rocky Meade yesterday told journalists that the soldiers were being very careful to protect the rights of persons in the west Kingston operation.
"Our terms of engagement require the use of the minimum force necessary to protect the lives of our troops and persons we are engaged to protect. If there is a specific report, we will investigate it, and I can assure you that if there was abuse, that will be dealt with by our internal processes."
The colonel also poured cold water on claims by the residents that the bodies of civilians had been burnt by rogue members of the army.
"I have no report of that, and that is something that would have to be investigated, but I am fairly confident (and) I can say, based on our training, our briefing to our troops and our modus operandi, that I would be very surprised if there was any such occurrence," added Meade.
Meade was less forceful in responding to the bombing allegations. Said he: "The Jamaica Defence Force owns no fighter jets, so I cannot speak to that. I am not sure what person refer to when they talk about bombs, so I can't speak to that either," said Meade.
The authorities made no mention of a drone which was seen monitoring the war zone from the skies on Monday.