Serial 35

[Editor’s note: This document was released both as a State Department cable as part of its 1981 FOIA release, and as Serial 35 of the FBI’s RYMUR release. The text was released at https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/1978GEORGE03811_d.html.]

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ACTION ARA-15
INFO OCT-01 ISO-00 FBIE-00 CIAE-00 DODE-00 PA-01
TRSE-00 SCS-06 MCT-02 CA-01 INR-10 INRE-00 SY-05
SYE-00 USSS-00 H-01 AID-05 SS-15 SSO-00 NSCE-00
CCO-00 OC-06 JUSE-00 NSAE-00 ICAE-00 L-03 HA-05
MED-05 OPR-02 PER-01 PPT-01 FAA-00 DOTE-00 EB-08
/093 W
——————099847 201825Z /44

Z 201730Z NOV 78
FM AMEMBASSY GEORGETOWN
TO SECSTATE WASHDC FLASH 8094
DOD WASHDC//NMCC
LIMITED OFFICIAL USE GEORGETOWN 3811
E.O. 11652: NA
TAG: CASC, OREP (RYAN, LEO) GY
SUBJ: GOG [Government of Guyana] CREATES TASK FORCE TO DEAL WITH JONESTOWN TRAGEDY.
REF: GEORGETOWN 3792

1. Amba [John Burke, U.S. Ambassador to Guyana] called Prime Minister [Forbes Burnham] early morning to discuss developing Jonestown tragedy November 20. (During the night Nov. 19/20 GDF [Guyana Defense Force] and Guyana plice had entered Jonestown and established as many as 300 to 400 dead in the community.) Ambassador suggested to Prime Minister that in order to come to grips with this calamity it would be useful to create task force that could be in continuous touch to make necessary arrangements in days ahead. Prime Minister immediately created a task force composed of Minister of Health, Housing and Labor Hamilton Green (Chairman), Foreign Minister Rashliegh [Rashleigh] Jackson, and Minister of Home Affairs Vibert Mingo. First meeting was set for 0845.

2. Ambassador and Acting DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] Victor Dikeos arrived at Minister

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Green’s office for the task force’s first meeting. Also present were commander of the Guyanese Defense Force Brigadier Price, Police Commission [Lloyd] Barker, GDF Colonel Joseph Sigh [Singh] (who had commanded the movement into Georgetown), as well as the permanent secretary for the prime minister’s office.

3. Green opened the meeting by noting that the most immediate problem seemed to be the disposition of the 300 to 400 rapidly decomposing cadavers at Jonestown. He outlined briefly to the group the primitive communications and transportation linkages from Georgetown to the Jonestown area. He also said that an additional casualty during the attack on Congressman Ryan was the Guyana airways aircraft which had taken him to Port Kaituma. It was now seriously damaged and obviously out service for some time. As of now Guyana Airways Corporation which furnishes internal domestic air service in Guyana is vitually out of business. The minister asked whether or not the U.S. government would be in a position to loan to the GOG two Otter aircraft (GAC [Guyana Airways Corporation] knows and flies Otters on its internal routes) for a temporary period to enable the government of Guyana to restore domestic air services. Ambassador said that he would transmit this request to Washington.

4. Ambassador outlined for the group what the U.S. was intending to do: item: we were bringing in additional Medevac C-141 during the day of Nov. 20. Item: we were in the process of bringing two Uh1as into the country along with an l21. Item: to handle the transport of the bodies from Jonestown to Timehri airport for eventual transsport [transport] to the U.S. We were proposing to bring in 12 helicopters plus support and operating personnel. Item: in response to GOG police and GDG [likely GDF] material requests, we were

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bringing in equipment for these two services.

5. Minister proposed sending initial team up to Jonestown to make overall assessment of problem at 10:30 local Nov. 20. He offered two spaces to U.S. embassy and ambassador designated Acting DCM Dikeos and TDY [Temporary Duty] Consul John Nash to accompany. An additional ground trip by the one remaining Otter in the GOG inventory will be made mid-afternoon and will carry medical personnel who will attempt to begin processing the bodies. (GOG has in mind to separate poison victims from gunshot victims and perform spot autopsies on randomly selected bodies in each group for purposes of their investigation. Obviously there is no intention to perform autopsies on all bodies.) GOG hopes to be able to photograph and fingerprint all of the victims.

6. We will be reporting further as soon as Acting Deputy Chief Of Mission Dikeos returns from Jonestown area. Separate from the two flights referred to above embassy has on its own chartered the one available Cessna 402 in country and is sending USAF Commo team, which arrived night Nov. 19, to Jonestown at 1:30 p.m. local Nov 20. Ambassador and consul have briefed military people on what to expect in way of transportation problems and living conditions on arrival. Commo team is, happily, self-contained and self-sustaining, at least for 3-day period.

Burke [John Burke, U.S. Ambassador to Guyana]

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Originally posted on May 16th, 2018.

Last modified on June 24th, 2022.
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