Prolonged agony for families of missing fishermen

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By Neil Marks

In the Surinamese capital Paramaribo, Guyanese Nandranie Sookra, like 14 other families, wishes for some closure.

Her son, 22-year-old son Ralph Anthony Couchman, is believed to have been among the 20 Guyanese fishermen working off the coast of Suriname on April 27 when a gang carrying guns and cutlasses pounced on them.

I met her at a boatyard where scores of boats have been docked since the attack. Some fishermen are afraid to venture out back at sea; even if they were willing, the authorities have banned any further fishing until they can put security measures in place.

Stuart Getrouw, Suriname’s Minister of Justice and Police, has said the fishermen will be safeguarded by the Police and the Army.

The immediate task at hand though is finding bodies, a harsh conclusion, but the only plausible one at this time, Guyana’s Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, said in Suriname, where he met the families.

As the days pass, no one believes anymore of the men will turn up alive.

Five of the men are known to have survived, telling incredible stories of how they were burnt with hot oil, chopped and made to jump overboard; some had heavy objects – anchors and batteries – tied to their feet and hurled overboard.

Only three bodies have been found and family members have not been allowed to go to the mortuary in Paramaribo because authorities want to conduct DNA tests and await the results first.

That wait is frustrating for Tarmattie Ibrahim.  She believes one of the bodies is that of her husband – 29-year-old Danash Persaud.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, who met with Ibramhim and Mrs Sookra Monday afternoon, doesn’t understand what the “state secret” is about.

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo speaking with News Room in Suriname

“Why not just allow her to go to the morgue?

“…it’s unbelievable, unbelievable that she is grieving and she is here waiting…it sounds very, very unusual to me, very unusual.”

Mrs Sookra is not sure what happened to her son. She last saw him on January 10 last in Guyana just before she left for Barbados.

She had pleaded with him not to go back to sea, but he insisted.

“Since then I haven’t seen my son.”

She has been in Paramaribo for many days, but information is hard to come by.

“I haven’t heard anything about my son up to now.”

Mr Jagdeo has been meeting with the families of the fishermen because he wants the Government to act in an “exceptional manner” and not in the routine way he feels they have acted so far.

“After the President described this as a massacre, I thought that immediately we would see the issue becoming a priority for the Government to address…different than the routine one we have had so far,” Jagdeo stated.

Jagdeo was in Suriname at the weekend; the same time Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan was meeting with high-level Government officials in Suriname.

Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan during a high level meeting in Suriname

He did not downplay the nature of the attack.

“It was basically an enterprise of murder of the most gruesome circumstances,” he stated.

“They apparently did things like chop them up, put weights – batteries – tied the batteries to their legs to ensure they were all gotten rid of.

“But some managed to escape…,” Ramjattan said in an interview with News Room at the Guyana Embassy in Paramaribo.

Minister Ramjattan met with the families of the fishermen and had extensive discussions with them on a range of issues, saying that the Government will support them in various ways, including those who want to return to Guyana.

The Opposition Leader said he welcomed Ramjattan’s visit to Suriname.

“We will support our Government if it acts in favour of Guyanese,” Jagdeo stated.

The Opposition Leader said he plans to raise the issue as a matter of urgent, national importance in the National Assembly Friday and hopes the Speaker would allow the discussion and that Minister Ramjattan will have the answers.

“We want to know how the collaboration with the Surinamese has been going, we want a report to the country.

“We want to know how the Government will treat this as an exceptional measure, what we’re doing to bring the perpetrators to justice, how they are going to protect the identities of the people who are supplying information, what help they are going to give to the families who are stranded – many of them need help, financial and otherwise,” Jagdeo stated.

Whether a Parliamentary discussion will take place remains to be seen, but it is hardly likely that the question really on the minds of family members like Nandrani Sookra will come from the Parliamentary Chambers, rather, their answers lie somewhere out in the deep.

“Even if they find (his body), that will satisfy me. But if I don’t have anything, I will have to live with that…it wouldn’t come out of me.”

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