By Yankuba Jallow
Former army chief of staff Colonel Baboucar Jatta has on Thursday warned soldiers to desist from partaking in coups.
He said soldiers joined Yahya Jammeh and others to topple the PPP government with promises that they would improve their condition if they come to power.
“This has never happened. Only a few of us were enjoying,” he said.
He said he would not participate in a coup again in the remainder of his life. He said soldiers should stay in their barracks.
“Soldiers of The Gambia Armed Forces be careful. This is the moment; I have to tell the whole world that soldiers should be very careful. Professional soldiers do not participate in coups. I have made my mistake and this should be a learning point for soldiers,” he said.
He also admitted misleading the April 2000 Commission of Inquiry about the involvement of the army in the incident by offering them false description of the whole situation with the intention of covering up the government and his men. He said he did not tell the defunct April 2000 Commission that his men were involved in the shooting, arrest and torture of students. He added that he hid the fact that there were missing ammunition from the men he deployed to Brikamaba and other areas.
“That was a fundamental omission,” Counsel Essa M. Faal of the Commission put to Jatta and in his response, Jatta admitted saying, “yes I agree”.
“The Report was part of the government’s cover up to falsify what actually happened on the 10th and 11th April incident,” Jatta said.
“It was an army cover up intending to mislead the Commission of Inquiry,” CDS Jatta said.
Jatta reappeared before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) for the third time on Thursday, 3rd October 2019 to shed light on his involvement in the April 2000 mass students’ demonstration, his knowledge about the death Ousman Koro Ceesay, a former Minister of Finance and the issues surrounding the existence of a group of alleged killers dubbed “Junglers”.
Jatta held the position of the Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) for about 10 years under the AFPRC and APRC regimes. He began his testimony yesterday and he proceeded where he stopped.
He said the operational order that was submitted to the April 2000 Commission of Inquiry was issued on the 10th April 2000 and not as indicated in the report that it was issued on the 11th.
He said on the 10th April, he ordered for Captain Vincent Jatta to come with his men to Serrekunda, Westfield and other areas to quell the demonstration. He said it was only the 1stInfantry Battalion – soldiers from the Yundum Barracks who did this particular operation on the 10th April. He said this came about following the orders made by Dr. Isatou Njie-Saidy, a former vice President of the Gambia that he should deploy his men to quell the demonstration because the police said ‘they cannot move further.’ He added that he also came to Westfield, Kairaba Avenue, Jeshwang among other places to ensure the orders were effectively implemented.
“I was not there to interfere with their operations but I was there to supervise them,” Jatta said, adding that by 6 pm, everything was done and it was hard to see people on the highways because everyone went inside.
“My soldiers arrested student leaders,” he said, adding that he did not instruct any soldier to come out on the 10th April.
“I lost command and control of my men,” he said, adding that “the person who gave those orders must have undermined me.”
“Nobody below me will have the authority to give that order. The person must be above me but if I have known the person, that would have been hell,” the former military leader said.
He said he did not do any inquiry to know who gave the orders for the soldiers to come out and shoot the unarmed students in the morning of the 10th April.
“On that day, I was panicked and confused,” Jatta said, adding that the incident happened randomly and I lost command and control of his men.
“I accept that my men were involved in the shooting of students,” Jatta told the Commission.
He said on the 11th April, he was called by the Commanding Officer of the Farafenni Barracks, Captain Baboucar Keita who told him about an ongoing disturbance in Brikamaba and he ordered him to deploy his men there to quell the disturbance. He said ordered him to go with a platoon which is about 30 men. He said Farafenni, Basse and Kudang were all under the 2nd Battalion and soldiers came from all these places to Brikamaba to quell the situation.
He said at the time the soldiers were leaving for Brikamaba, they were issued with AK47 with both life and blank ammunition.
Death of Ousman Koro Ceesay
He said he went together with 13 Badjie and Samba Sowe, the then Director of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to the scene where the supposed accident that claimed the life of Ousman Koro Ceesay, a former Minister of Finance during the military regime in 1995.
Ceesay was allegedly killed in June 1995 at the residence of Yankuba Touray, a former member of the military government that toppled the PPP government that ruled the Gambia for about 30 years.
CDS Jatta said Ceesay’s vehicle was found around Jambur. He said he observed that the purported accident was not real because the effect couldn’t have caused the death in the way he found the former Minister in the Mercedeze Benz. He said if the accident was real, the damage on the car would have been more serious than what he saw.
“I can’t remember whether the head was there or not, but there were no limbs. By the limbs I mean both the hands and legs,” he said.
He said after seeing the victim, he called Edward Singhatey, the then acting chairman of the Armed Forces Provincial Ruling Council (AFPRC) informing him about the incident. He said Singhatey told him to wait until then military head of state, Yahya Jammeh arrive.