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Robinson: I was never warned

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

Contradicting testimony given by former MP Rawle Raphael, former prime minister ANR Robinson yesterday said no one ever warned him of an impending insurrection before the 1990 coup attempt.

He also stressed yesterday that it was "irresponsible" for anyone to allow a member of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen to be part of the National Alliance for Reconstruction "A Team", a group which provided security for the political leader (and Prime Minister) and senior members of the party.

Robinson was giving testimony before the commission of enquiry into the events surrounding the 1990 coup attempt.

Robinson was responding to statements from Commissioner Dr Hafizool Ali Mohammed that they had sworn testimony that anyone could have joined the "A Team" without a proper background check and that Lance Small, who was a member of the "A Team", was also a member of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen.

"I am shocked to hear any responsible person, or who claims to be responsible, could have behaved in such a manner and accept to the membership of a group which was responsible for the security of the (political) leader and other members at public meetings, (a member of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen). It is unthinkable that anyone would behave in such a manner. And if anyone behaved in such a manner, I would say that person is totally irresponsible," Robinson declared.

Raphael had stated that Small told him three times about the impending insurrection and he (Raphael) advised another "A Team" member, Dennis Cornwall, to inform National Security Minister Selwyn Richardson and Robinson. Raphael said Cornwall, up to two weeks ago, confirmed that he told both Richardson and Robinson.

Robinson, who was questioned by Commissioner Dr Eastlyn McKenzie about these statements, said: "I regret to say, that I have no knowledge or recollection of a man named Cornwall."

Robinson was asked by Deputy Commissioner Sir Richard Cheltenham, QC, whether looking back, it was not a mistake not to have been firm with the Muslimeen rather than not enforce the court orders in respect of the lands at Mucurapo. He said the NAR government was of the view the matter had been allowed to proceed for so long that it was better to negotiate an end, rather than seek to enforce a decision of the court after so much time had elapsed and the Muslimeen had been allowed to occupy the land.

"The Government felt that the wiser course of action, rather than have a conflagration in the society," Robinson said.

Asked by Cheltenham whether he had the impression members of the Police Service had divided loyalties and some were in sympathy for the coup attempt, Robinson said he would have expected that some members of the Police Service would favour the Opposition rather than the Government and, in doing so, found themselves in alignment with the Muslimeen.

However, Robinson said the Regiment was the hero of the coup attempt because they surrounded the Parliament as far as they could, they brought to bear the kind of artillery they had, which was superior to that of the Muslimeen, they sought to ensure that their own nationals were not killed in the crossfire between them and the Muslimeen, and they secured the capture of the Muslimeen insurgents.

In response to a comment from Cheltenham that there appeared to be no clear agenda or goal behind the Muslimeen assault in 1990, Robinson said their goal was to disrupt the Parliament, imprison the NAR MPs in particular as a matter of revenge, and to do damage.

He said taking over the Government was never seriously considered by the Muslimeen and that an element within the group was unaware of the consequences that would ensue from its conduct.

Questioned by Commission chairman Sir David Simmons about the climate of discontent that existed just prior to the coup attempt, Robinson said in the years of stringency the NAR government had the extremely difficult task of balancing the need to rescue the country from complete collapse, with the need to provide as much service as possible to the people in every part of society.

Told that the Government's prime responsibility was the safety and security of the people, Robinson said: "With respect, Mr Chairman, the safety and security of the people cannot be ensured if the country collapses."

Simmons countered that the safety and security of the country could be threatened before collapse, by dissident groups and people who are willing to incite insurrection.

Robinson rejoined: "I entirely agree with you. And one measure which the NAR could have taken in such circumstances is to declare a state of emergency and imprison some of the most vocative leaders who were threatening violence."

Simmons suggested that Robinson was not being kept abreast by the intelligence wing of the Police Service of the nature and extent of discontent within the society about the NAR policies.

Asked about Canon Knolly Clarke several times by Simmons, Robinson said he did not wish to get involved in a discussion on personalities. Robinson said he was aware Clarke's position has changed dramatically in recent times. Asked about SOPO, an organisation which was agitating for his government to disband the structural adjustment policies, Robinson said he recalled that the communist philosophy had a very strong influence at that time. He said one trade union leader had advised that the Government adopt the policy of a communist country.

Told by McKenzie that Pius Mason, who was shot during the coup attempt, had stated that he went to National Security Minister Joseph Toney seeking help, only to be "bouffed" and told by Toney that assistance was only being given to government employees, Robinson said: "I would say emphatically, it was not and could not have been a decision taken by the Government that I headed. And I am appalled at the allegation that Mr Toney could have behaved in such a manner and I certainly think that Mr Toney should answer to that allegation."

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