13 Jamaicans buried in mass grave


The bodies of 13 people killed during recent politically charged violence were lowered into a mass grave on Sunday as thousands of mourners sang and danced, and a marching band played on.

At least 28 people died in the three days of unrest that erupted on July 7 when police moved in to search for guns in a home for the elderly near Tivoli Gardens — a stronghold of the opposition Jamaica Labor Party.

The other 15 victims have already been or will be buried in the coming weeks. Funerals have been delayed by autopsies and families who waited for relatives overseas to make it home.

“I think right now we’re just sad and we need to mourn. But anger is still here,” Pauline Forbes, 28, an unemployed mother who knew one of the victims, said before the funeral. “Things have to change.”

Police say snipers fired on the officers but residents and opposition leaders said the police fired first. Calm returned only after Prime Minister P.J. Patterson ordered the full deployment of the army July 9 and opposition leaders urged supporters to back off.

Sunday’s burial attracted at least 5,000 people who formed a snake-like procession on foot to the May Pen Cemetery in Kingston. A marching band in orange and black uniforms played music as a flatbed truck delivered the caskets. The 13 victims — ranging in age from 15 to 83 — were lowered into a long common grave.

Before the burial service, smartly-dressed elderly women stood next to shirtless young men in a humble, metal-roofed community center in Denham Town — another Labor stronghold bordering Tivoli Gardens.

The Jamaica Labor Party paid for the service, Labor legislator Audley Shaw said, but officials have not said how much it cost.

Labor Party leader Edward Seaga has demanded the army leave the area where the unrest exploded. On Sunday he repeated allegations that authorities were targeting his supporters because his party was leading in polls, even though elections aren’t due until December 2002.

Seaga said his lawyers are collecting statements from residents and he is exploring whether to file a lawsuit against the state.

The governing party has denied targeting opposition supporters and blamed the opposition for inciting the violence.

The crowd cheered when Seaga, giving a eulogy at the funeral, said the victims were “killed by men who act like animals who take orders from men who could only be classified as animals.”

No government representatives were visible at the service on Sunday.