KINGSTON, Jamaica – A fact-finding panel in Trinidad & Tobago says there is no evidence to support allegations that two political leaders had prior knowledge of a bloody coup attempt in 1990.
The commission of inquiry was appointed in 2011 to examine the armed rebellion by Islamic militants who stormed Parliament on July 27, 1990, and took the prime minister and his Cabinet hostage. The coup attempt by Yasin Abu Bakr and 113 members of his Jamaat al Muslimeen group resulted in 24 deaths, most of them during looting that erupted in the capital of Port-of-Spain.
Over the past two decades, the Jamaat leader and some former officials have asserted that former prime ministers Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday knew the insurrection was planned. Former finance minister Selby Wilson testified to the panel he had a "gut feeling" that the two politicians knew about it beforehand.
The two politicians, who were both absent from Parliament when the Jamaat rebels began their assault, have repeatedly dismissed the accusation as absurd. Manning led the Caribbean country in 1991-95 and in 2001-10. Panday was the twin-island republic's leader in 1995-2001.
In the report delivered to Parliament on Friday, the commission says it found no evidence to support the allegations against the two men. Bakr, the most vocal accuser, refused to testify before the commission and offer evidence for what the panel described as "scurrilous innuendo."
"Bakr was afforded ample opportunity to give evidence on oath and be subjected to the searchlight of cross-examination to determine the truth of any assertions he cared to make," the commissioners wrote.
On Sunday, Bakr told a local TV station that he intends to soon host an event to provide his explanation of the issues that led to the 1990 rebellion.
Panday, leader of the United National Congress party, was apparently at home sleeping when the coup attempt started. The government-appointed commission said "rumors and belief in some sections of the public" about Panday's involvement are not supported by evidence.
The panel noted Panday had fueled speculation by telling his wife to "wake me up when it's finished" as she tried to rouse him from sleep once she saw Bakr on national television telling islanders his group was in charge of the country. "Mr. Panday himself publicly told people the joke and it has become part of the folklore of the insurrection," the commissioners said.
A few former Parliament members speculated during testimony that Manning must have had prior knowledge of the coup attempt because he left the legislature shortly before the violence broke out.
One ex-lawmaker, Gloria Henry, testified that she saw Manning speaking with about 10 young men during a parliamentary tea break the day the insurrection was launched. Shortly afterward, the same young men participated in the assault on Parliament, she testified, and Manning had left for his home office.
The commission found that the conversation Henry claims she witnessed between Manning and the group of men could have been about anything, even "an exchange of pleasantries."
"We conclude that, on the evidence, Mr. Manning did not have prior knowledge of the attempted coup," the commissioners wrote.
Unlike Panday, Manning did not testify. In 2011, he indicated that he would, but during the proceedings he became seriously ill and went on sick leave. The commission said it would have been "unreasonable" to summon him.
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