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Jamaica appoints panel to examine bloody operation by security forces that killed at least 77

FILE - In this May 30, 2010 file photo, a girl walks behind a concertina wire at a military checkpoint in the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica. On Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, Jamaica appointed a fact-finding panel to examine the operation by security forces that killed more than 70 citizens in gritty slums during a state of emergency on the Caribbean island that aimed to catch the island’s biggest gang boss, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, and exert legal authority over the area. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

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FILE - In this May 30, 2010 file photo, a girl walks behind a concertina wire at a military checkpoint in the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica. On Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, Jamaica appointed a fact-finding panel to examine the operation by security forces that killed more than 70 citizens in gritty slums during a state of emergency on the Caribbean island that aimed to catch the island’s biggest gang boss, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, and exert legal authority over the area. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

KINGSTON, Jamaica - Jamaica appointed a fact-finding panel Monday to examine a May 2010 operation by security forces that killed more than 70 citizens in gritty slums during a state of emergency on the Caribbean island.

The government said the long-sought commission of inquiry will conduct a "fair and impartial" look at the deadly operation in Tivoli Gardens and a patchwork of other so-called "garrison" ghettos in West Kingston to catch the island's biggest gang boss and exert legal authority over the area.

The commission will be led by David Simmons, a retired chief justice and former attorney general of Barbados. It's not clear when the panel will begin hearings, but the government says it will try to conclude its inquiry within three months of whenever it starts. It says commissioners may hold a mix of public and private hearings.

The inquiry is expected to examine the conduct of security forces, how people were killed and whether citizens' rights were violated by law enforcement officers or anyone else.

Nearly four years after the offensive by Jamaican military and police, basic details of what happened remain murky even though it was the bloodiest episode in Jamaica's recent history. There have been numerous allegations of unlawful killings in the barricaded housing complex of Tivoli Gardens, and human rights groups have been calling for an independent inquiry for years.

Last year, residents of battle-scarred Tivoli Gardens rallied in Jamaica's capital to demand accountability and justice for what they insist were numerous indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests and even mortar explosions by security forces. Gang kingpin Christopher "Dudus" Coke and his "Shower Posse" criminal empire once dominated the slum. He was sought on a U.S. extradition warrant that Jamaica had stonewalled for nine months.

After denying it previously, the Jamaica Defence Force acknowledged in 2012 that its troops used mortar fire to break through heavy barricades that Coke's supporters had erected to block entry to the slum. Leaders of Jamaica's security forces have said their men came under heavy gunfire inside Tivoli, but residents dispute that. Very few weapons were recovered in the operation.

In an interim report delivered to Parliament in May, Public Defender Earl Witter said 76 civilians and one soldier were killed. His office has been looking into complaints that 44 of the 76 civilian deaths could have been unjustifiable.

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David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd

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