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Guyana Agriculture Minister among four murdered

Georgetown, 24 Apr. 06 [AlterPresse] --- Gunmen burst into the home of Guyana’s agriculture minister early on April 22, 2006 and shot him to death, as well as two of his family members and a security guard, authorities said.

The assailants were given the money and jewelry they demanded but still shot Agriculture Minister Satyadeo Sawh to death, according to his wife, who said she survived by hiding in their coastal home.

Sattie Sawh said she heard the gunmen make their demands, and said the family gave them everything they had.

“They still turned around and shot them,” she said hours after the attack at her house, where several government officials gathered to console the family. Satyadeo Sawh was shot as he reclined in a hammock, she said.

Satyadeo Sawh, 50, and his wife, both naturalised Canada citizens, returned to Guyana in the early 1990s. He came back to join the successful campaign of the governing People’s Progressive Party, which came to power in 1992, and he was named a Cabinet minister that year.

“It smacks of a political assassination but the motive is still to be determined,” said government spokesman Robert Persaud, who is not related to the victims.

Later on April 22, the government issued a statement after an emergency Cabinet meeting, saying it believed the killing of Sawh-the first of a Cabinet minister since Vincent Teekah in 1978-was an attempt to destabilise the country before upcoming elections, which were recently postponed from August 4 to give authorities more time to prepare for balloting. A new date has not yet been set.

The slayings “seemed a well planned and executed assassination by a large heavily-armed gang. The Cabinet expressed the concern that this attack might be part of a sinister plan to impact the outcome of the upcoming regional and general elections,” the statement said.

The government said it planned to seek help from foreign security agencies, but didn’t elaborate. Flags at government offices were flown yesterday at half-mast.

No arrests had been made, but tracking dogs were searching the sugar cane fields surrounding the house where the gunmen were believed to have been hiding before the attack and fled afterward, said Police Chief Winston Felix.

Authorities believe the assailants stayed outside the house in the Earl’s Court district, about ten kilometres east of the capital of Georgetown, and forced their way inside after the minister and his family arrived.

Forensic evidence shows the gunmen-who neighbours and witnesses said numbered about seven and wore black clothing- used rifles, Felix said.

Also slain in the attack were Phulmattie Persaud-Sawh’s sister, Rajpatrai Sawh, his brother, and a security guard.

Sawh’s siblings were visiting Guyana from Canada.

Another of Sawh’s brothers was hospitalised for a gunshot wound. He was treated and released, said Sattie Sawh. At least one other person, a neighbour’s security guard, was also wounded, Felix said.

“I don’t know if I will pack up and leave,” Sattie Sawh said. “I came back to Guyana because I like my country.”

The slayings come amid a rise in violent crime and political uncertainty over the upcoming elections. [Exilus Deceyon - apr 24/04/2006 09:00]