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In a letter captioned "The government must accept the existence of the African Guyanese Armed Resistance and seek to negotiate a truce" published last Sunday Mr Tacuma Ogunseye urged the government to come to terms with the fact that it is dealing with a domestic insurgency and not to label "everything that is taking place as simply crime." The letter comes, as he recognises, at a very sensitive time, a week after the execution of Minister Satyadeow Sawh, though he does not directly attribute that murder to the armed resistance.

Mr Ogunseye states that if Guyana is to go forward in peace the following issues must be addressed. First, the government must accept that it is very unlikely that it can defeat an African armed resistance "given the ethnic and political history of our security forces." Therefore it must publicly admit the existence of an armed resistance and seek to negotiate a truce. "If this is done we are more likely to find a political solution to what is a serious political problem."

Second, he says, the government must realise that state encouraged executions of young Africans by elements in the police force and "by death squads controlled by drug lords" are largely responsible for the present crisis. He also refers to the exclusion of the African community from executive power through a winner take all political system and the "perception by the masses of Africans of economic marginalization" and says these factors have contributed to the growth and rise of the organised resistance.

Third, he says the government and all other political parties contesting the elections must embrace ACDA's call for constitutional reform based on shared governance before the elections.

Finally, he says there must be a grand alliance of all national stakeholders in a genuine effort at reconciliation and to liberate Guyana from the drug lords.

Mr Ogunseye, therefore, explicitly links the armed resistance with a call for constitutional and political reform.

The government of Guyana is not an oppressive dictatorship and we do not believe that there is justification for an armed, extra-parliamentary resistance. The government was duly elected in free and fair elections. The extra-judicial execution of young, black men was certainly unacceptable. It started in the Burnham era and we had urged since then that the legal requirement for inquests to be held in the case of all unnatural deaths should be observed and reinstated. We had also urged this government to disband the black clothes squad which it had inherited and to create a specially trained unit to deal with armed crime by conventional and lawful methods. That would always have been the correct solution, not the creation or toleration of private death squads. The situation sprang originally largely from the deterioration in the quality and independence of the police force under Forbes Burnham which led to the adoption of brutal methods of containment of criminals and political opponents.

This government inherited that weakened and demoralised police force. It can certainly be blamed for failing to take steps to correct the situation. But the question is did that justify an armed resistance and the murder of many policemen? The whole country has suffered from economic stagnation, Indians and Amerindians as well as Africans. That is certainly partly due to poor governance, but can that justify armed resistance? And the claim that the winner takes all system should be replaced by some form of consociational democracy is a claim that can legitimately be pursued but should it be at the point of a gun?

The armed resistance poses a serious problem not only for the government but for the lawful parliamentary opposition. Violence is incompatible with the rule of law and the open society to which they are committed. Do minorities in plural societies have a right to assert what they perceive to be their rights by violence? Is that what Mr. Ogunseye is suggesting?

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