Jamaican gunfight death toll rises to 73

The official death toll in five days of intense fighting in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, has reached 73 as security forces continue their hunt for an alleged drug kingpin.

The official death toll in five days of intense fighting in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, has reached 73 as security forces continue their hunt for an alleged drug kingpin.

The revised casualty figures were provided by deputy police chief Glenmore Hinds. At least three security officers have also died in gunfights.

Soldiers standing guard are seen through the tinted window of a bus during a media tour organized by government authorities inside the Tivoli Gardens neighbourhood in Kingston, Jamaica, on Thursday. ((Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press))

All this week, police and soldiers have been sweeping through the Jamaican capital. But so far, their manhunt for Christopher (Dudus) Coke has failed to turn up any sign of him, and authorities worry that he may have fled the country. 

"We are still searching for Mr. Coke," Hinds said. "Certainly we can't disclose where we are looking."

Security forces have encountered fierce resistance from Coke's supporters in Tivoli Gardens, his stronghold in West Kingston.

Residents of the slum have accused soldiers of shooting and killing innocent civilians. During a military-controlled tour of the worst-hit areas Thursday, bystanders frequently told reporters that many civilians had been killed.

'A lot of innocent people died'

"Not everybody is guilty living in here," one woman said. "A lot of innocent people died."

When the convoy of journalists drove by a cemetery near Denham Town — near Tivoli Gardens — a crowd shouted that many bodies were buried there. Soldiers prevented anyone from entering, but Hinds said that was because 15 "badly decomposed" bodies of people killed in the fighting were being prepared for burial.

More than 500 people have been arrested during the hunt for Coke. Most are being held at Kingston's National Arena, where relatives anxiously gathered.

"They are handling our kids very bad in here," one man said.    

The U.S. has long demanded Jamaica allow Coke to be extradited to the U.S to face trial for drug trafficking. The U.S. Justice Department calls him one of the world's most dangerous drug lords and a major trafficker of cocaine into New York.   

The 41-year-old Coke controlled Tivoli Gardens with his own band of gunmen. But he won support from many local residents because he also provided much-needed services in poor areas of the capital where a government presence was nowhere to be found.

The Canadian government has issued an official travel warning, advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to downtown areas of Kingston.  

With files from The Associated Press