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Witnesses: Bodies burning in Jamaica

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Jamaicans traumatized by violence
  • Officials deny any bodies have been burned
  • Witnesses say dozens of bodies lay in the streets
  • Official death count is at 67
  • Reporters whisked through portion of Tivoli Gardens

(CNN) -- Security forces were burning the bodies of the dead this week in a Jamaican neighborhood ravaged by a failed attempt to arrest a suspected drug kingpin, according to residents, who said their entire neighborhood had been a war zone.

Kingston's deputy police commissioner, Glenmore Hinds, denied the reports.

"We have no evidence of any body been burned," Hinds said Thursday. "There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that any of the bodies been burned."

Jamaican authorities launched an all-out attempt to arrest Christopher "Dudus" Coke over the weekend, but they were met by barricades and gunfire that resulted in at least 67 deaths and the arrests of hundreds, mostly on weapons charges.

"Our best information is that he has not been arrested," Hinds said. "His whereabouts, I cannot tell you."

Throughout the week, a discrepancy between the government's body count and that of local media raised eyebrows. Some residents of Tivoli Gardens, where much of the violence was focused, told CNN they fear the authorities are trying to cover up its extent.

None of the residents who spoke with CNN would agree to use their names, fearing reprisal from the authorities.

One man told CNN on Wednesday he could see the burning from his window, which overlooks the front of the public works compound.

I literally saw them wrap up men in sheets and put tires on them and burn them.

"I literally saw them wrap up men in sheets and put tires on them and burn them," one man told CNN. The men were already dead, he said.

He said he was shocked by what he'd seen.

"Never known Jamaica would become like this," he said, adding that he'd seen soldiers searching houses to see who lives where and taking men and women outside to separate places. When the shooting started, he said he hid under his bed.

"We are decent people living here, and they are shooting everywhere," he said.

Another resident called the violence a "war" and said she saw teenage boys picking up bodies.

"And they are not finished yet," she said. "They say they have more bodies to collect. ... 70 maybe."

"Some of the bodies" -- maybe 5 or 6 -- "were burnt up" by police, she said.

By Wednesday, she said, "War done. Nobody is here, just women, old people and little youths."

Another man described police dragging people from their homes and beating them. "Happened to me, too," said the Tivoli Gardens resident, who has since fled to another neighborhood. "Kick me down in the gully and made dirty water enter my mouth. I am traumatized."

"Whole heap of people dead," he said. "They are burning some bodies and sending the rest away, don't know what they do with the rest. They are cleaning up. ... The police and military man. No war is going on in Tivoli, it's just them alone. They are in there, in house on rooftops. They are cleaning up. They move all the sandbags and making it look like something else. The whole place mash up."

He guessed he had seen 100 to 150 bodies, but couldn't say for sure because of "the way they were stacked up, nuff people dead. They are running them out in white vans, covering bodies in white sheets."

All three residents said Tivoli Gardens is in ruins. Journalists reported being unable to get into the shattered neighborhood at the beginning of the week, but on Thursday, security forces whisked reporters through an area of Tivoli Gardens they said was under government control. There, the neighborhood was quiet but the buildings were pocked with bullet holes and the streets littered with the remains of barricades. The tour was fast, officials said, because the area remained volatile.

Hinds said Thursday that 73 bodies had been recovered from the battle sites, but six, he said, may not have died from the violence. All, he said, were civilians.

"But civilians are sometimes gunmen and gunwomen," he said.

CNN's Christine Theodorou, Ben Brumfield, Rafael Romo and Nadine Drummond contributed to this report.