By Kebba Jeffang
The Interior Minister Mai Ahmad Fatty revealed that the armed unit of the police force has taken over the protection of the presidential facilities and the president himself as the armed forces will be returning to barracks for their rare role to defending the country against external aggression.
Fatty made this revelation while responding to a question on Friday evening 24th February. He said as he continues to receive more calls from journalists it is relevant to call for press conference to address their questions relating to the security situation in the country.
The minister had earlier said in his opening remarks that for the past 22 years, the security establishments were designed to suit dictatorship in the country. Therefore, he said it is about time to reorient and retrain the security apparatus in the country as security is key.
“We do not envisage that the Gambia will go to war against any country. What is important is that every Gambian must understand and appreciate the need to maintain the stability in our country as without the stable environment the country cannot develop,” said minister.
He said: “We know that we are going through transformation of our democracy. When the Gambians chose a new leadership they did not only chose a new President they also voted to change the entire governance infrastructure. They voted to choose stability and security.”
Mr. Fatty noted that the only way stability can be maintained is to remain vigilant and focus on maintaining internal security. He said his government is very determined that the democracy the country ushered in recently is here to stay for good and no authority, no person or group of persons will be allowed to engage in action that will threaten the democracy that they are building.
“So I want to make it very clear that those individuals out there who feel that they can regroup or can re-strategise with the sole objective of destabilizing our new found democracy must be put on notice that we are watching them and we are monitoring the situation and we will not allow anybody to toy with the safety of this country. We will not allow Gambian citizens to flee their country just because some people do not feel happy about our new found democracy. And we know some of them; they are roaming around, we know where they are and we know sometimes where they want to meet,” warned the minister.
He said the police forces under the Inspector General of Police are taking every precaution necessary to ensure all Gambians can shape the peace. He also informed that the immigration department will continue to intensify the patrol of the borders so that those criminals who are in control of weapons can be caught as they search on them so that they will not be able to wreck any havoc on any society or community in the Gambia.
“I want to make a declaration here that all those who are in possession of fire arms surrender them to the nearest police stations. All those who are in possession of cutlasses and other offensive weapons that they are accumulating for other purposes other than maintaining peace, surrender them to the nearest police stations because when we go after you and we find you the law will take its course without any doubt,” he warned.
He said the government is grounded on rule of law and they will not violate the Constitution but due process and therefore accountability will be in place for those who were involved in the torture of Gambians and other dehumanizing treatments, noting that they can run but they cannot hide.
Commenting on the issue of enforced disappearances, Mr. Fatty: “For those of you who have your loved ones disappeared and you cannot find them and they were allegedly arrested and detained during the previous administration we have already constituted ‘a missing persons panel’ at the police department, go and report. The panel will look into it and we will investigate to get down to the bottom of it.”
He urged all Gambians to remain vigilant and be law abiding as the country will soon hold legislative election. He urged that peace should be maintained yet again as had been the case in the previous elections.
When asked why the Police Intervention Unit are now seen with the president, Fatty responded that President Barrow and his properties will be protected by the PIU from now on.
He said: “The President was very clear during the campaign that the role of the army is defending the country against external aggression and he also made it very clear that he wants to draw a line between the Armed Forces and other law enforcement outfits.
He said one finds it difficult to distinguish between the PIU members and the Armed Forces during the previous dispensation.
“The President would like the army to withdraw and get back to their barracks and get involved in activities of peace time. The armed forces do not belong to our streets and that is why the first thing he did was dismantling so many check points where you find the military.”
“The police intervention unit as the armed unit of police but still under the police force has the training that is provided to other members of the police force. They are better trained to be with civilians and the President has manifested his confidence and their ability to do that and that is why the armed unit of the police (PIU) is the one that has taken over the protection of Presidential facilities and the President himself.
Regarding release of prisoners and appalling detention centers, Mr Fatty said the Gambia is proud that it is the only or among very few countries in the world without having any political prisoners in cells. He said the President has advised them to review other cases and with the support of his personnel at the ministry, they are reviewing case by case and hopefully there will be another batch of prisoners to benefit from the prerogative of mercy. He said the government is not only committed to improving the prisons condition but even building a new one that meets human rights standard.