Gunbattles Kill Dozens in Jamaica Drug Crackdown

At least 44 civilians have been killed in an assault by Jamaica's security forces on a slum to capture an alleged drug kingpin, a senior official said Wednesday.

The government had ordered a political ombudsman and a public defender to visit the area of western Kingston to assess casualties and damage after accusations by residents of civilian deaths.

The public defender, Earl Witter, and ombudsman, Hero Blair, both said they counted 44 civilians dead after the tour assisted by the Jamaican Red Cross.

"We visited the morgue and were told that no fewer than 35 bodies were lodged there," Witter said. He said that nine more bodies were being sent to the morgue.

Police had said Tuesday that 26 residents and one soldier were killed in the operation, although an Agence France Presse correspondent who visited a hospital said that staff spoke of dozens of bodies coming in.

One soldier has died in the operations, according to officials. Police have also reported the deaths of two policemen and several civilians in other parts of Kingston.

The line between civilians and combatants has become blurry in the violence in Kingston, with security forces battling slum dwellers fiercely loyal to wanted don Christopher "Dudus" Coke.

U.S. prosecutors want to try Coke on charges of smuggling drugs that could lead to life in prison. After months of hesitation, Prime Minister Bruce Golding declared a state of emergency Sunday and ordered forces to capture him.(AFP)

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