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Jamaican unrest toll rises
At least 73 people have been killed as police hunt alleged drug kingpin in Kingston.
Last Modified: 28 May 2010 12:08 GMT
Residents have accused security forces of firing indiscriminately during four-day assault [Reuters]

Jamaican police have said that at least 73 bodies have been found in morgues, some in a state of decomposition, after a four-day-old assault in the capital Kingston.

Most of the dead are civilians, some who were reported to be unarmed, as security forces battled to arrest Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, an alleged drug kingpin, in his slum stronghold - Tivoli Gardens.

Al Jazeera's Sebastian Walker, reporting from Tivoli Gardens, said on Friday that gunmen had fled and left behind a traumatised neighbourhood that had been under siege since Sunday.

Residents accused security forces of firing indiscriminately in recent days.

Slum dwellers were seething with anger at Jamaica's security forces' house-to-house searches for Coke, with the death toll rising but no trace of the operation's target.

Heaps of sometimes smouldering garbage littered the streets of western Kingston, a world away from Jamaica's world-famous beaches, as security forces searched for Coke, who is wanted by the US on drug charges.

Residents traumatised

Outside one ramshackle apartment, a woman who said she had been inside for two days pushed aside with a rake the rotting body of a cat she found at her doorstep.

"What we need is money and food,"  Marlene, a middle-aged woman, said.

IN DEPTH

 

  Profile: Christopher "Dudus" Coke
  Island of music and murder
  Jamaica drug gangs 'call shots'

"Coke, he take care the community. Not the soldiers, they just shoot."

Government officials have refused to discuss Coke's whereabouts.

"Our best information is that he was not arrested. His whereabouts we cannot tell you," Glenroy Hinds, deputy commissioner of police, said.

Daryl Vaz, the information minister, said that the government was "very concerned" about accusations of mistreatment of civilians and would post a public defender permanently in the affected area to hear complaints.

Hinds said the lines between civilians and combatants had become blurry, saying civilians were "sometimes also gunmen and gunwomen."

Investigation pending

Amnesty International appealed for a thorough investigation, saying that Jamaican police had a "dire" human rights record and had  often carried out unlawful killings in the past.

Walker said that due to the fact that only found 6 weapons were found and Coke was still at large, authorities were having difficulty explaining the high loss of civilian life.

Earl Witter, the public defender, said: " I am troubled by the apparent dis-proportionality about the amount of weapons and material recovered and the number of people who died."

As the search for Coke continues, authorities said that they were now looking into reports of police misconduct and that an independent investigation would be held.

The US has strongly supported the operation and provided bulletproof vests to Jamaican security forces, concerned about the island's role as a conduit for drugs.

In Washington, the US pledged $45m for a new partnership called the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative to work together to fight drug-traffickers and other transnational criminal gangs.

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