SKNDF Commander on damning pictures By Sheena Brooks

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Photographs of Defense Force soldiers carrying assault rifles on Election Day have emerged yet Commander Lt. Colonel Patrick Wallace maintains he is being truthful with his claims that no soldiers were on duty with M16s. During an exclusive interview with The Observer, Commander Wallace denies being caught in a lie having publicly challenged the verity of a portion of the NGO Coalition’s Election Day Observer Report. “I never said that no soldiers had M16 rifles on Election Day. What I have said and still stand By is the truth, that no soldier was detailed for duty on Election Day at any polling station with riot gear and M16 rifles,” Wallace declared. The NGO report which was released mid-February called for a review of the need for “Defense Force personnel in riot gear toting M16 rifles”. In the circulated photographs, no members of the Defense Force were depicted wearing riot gear. Wallace said nothing has changed regarding his initial comments of that portion of the NGO report being “malevolent” and reiterates his call for its retraction. He offered this explanation as to what was depicted in the allegedly damning photographs. “With regard to the claims in the NGO report about massive military presence in Constituency 4 in Halfway Tree, the number of soldiers present at any given time on Election Day did not amount to ten. The most soldiers we had down there at any one time did not exceed 12. In particular in the area where problems occurred By the Health Centre, we had four soldiers deployed for duty there. They were joined later By a military officer making it a total of 5. “During the course of the day they were visited By other soldiers, about 3, who took down their lunch and water. They took a small minivan because we did not want any big display of military presence for this same reason,” the Commander said. The SKNDF Head said the pictures showed a few soldiers who were not on duty there but who passed through Constituency 4 on their way to Basseterre from Saddlers. “The guys who they saw in the pictures with M16 rifles they were not detailed for duties at any polling stations at all. Those guys were part of a regular patrol we send out on a daily basis and their job on that day was to patrol the Newtown, Conaree and St. Peters areas. While they were out they got a call about a shooting in Saddlers and they responded. Rather than come back to the Basseterre area via the Cayon route, they decided to go around the island. “When they got into Halfway Tree they met the vehicular road block and some of them got out the vehicle. If you look at the pictures you can see the soldiers have their weapons slung over their shoulders, muzzle down, and not pointed upright in any threatening posture.” Wallace said the operations for Election Day were specifically designed to pre-empt those same allegations being leveled at the security forces. He said he was told that the NGO Report would be used in court during PAM’s challenging of several hundred persons who voted in Constituency 4 where party leader Lindsay Grants lost By 29 votes. According to the Military Head, until the NGO members retracted the portions of the report relating to allegations of misconduct on the part of the SKNDF, he would not let the issue rest. He said for too long persons had unjustifiably dragged the name of the Defense Force through the mud and that needed to come to an end. “Whoever wrote that report had malicious intent. This thing will not die while I am in uniform and when I retire from the Force if it is not cleared up it will still be my crusade. History will not record us in that way. There was a time when we would refrain from making any comments, dismissing it as part of the local political atmosphere, but it is becoming more and more frequent and more and more serious.” SKNDF duty logs and operations orders for Election Day refute the NGO Coalition’s accounts of what transpired during the election, Wallace informed. He said the records clearly show how many men were deployed and to what polling stations and outlined their mandate for that day. Prime Minister Hon. Denzil Douglas has also called for retractions of certain excerpts from the report as they pertained to allegations of misbehavior on his part on that day. When asked if the SKNDF was considering taking legal actions against the NGO Coalition if the requested retraction was not made, Commander Wallace said the Defense Force would take other actions until the matter was resolved. He told this media house that the law enforcement body would not be participating in any event executed By these organizations nor in which they were chiefly involved. The Coalition, which consists of the St. Kitts Evangelical Association, the St. Kitts Christian Council and the St. Kitts-Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce has been mute since the report was released.

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