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THE GAMBIA-POLITICS: CONTROVERSY SURROUNDS COUP ALLEGATIONS

JUSTICE FOFANAH

BANJUL, Nov 15 1994 (IPS) - IT WAS WIDELY EXPECTED, AND WHEN IT CAME IT WAS BLOODY: AN ATTEMPTED COUP BY JUNIOR ARMY OFFICERS TO TOPPLE GAMBIA’S THREE-MONTH OLD MILITARY GOVERNMENT.

TENSION HAD BEEN SIMMERING IN THE GAMBIA, A SLIVER OF LAND ENGULFED BY SENEGAL, SINCE 29-YEAR-OLD LT. YAHYA JAMMEH DEPOSED ELECTED PRESIDENT DAWDA JAWARA IN A BLOODLESS JUL. 22 COUP.

IT EXPLODED EARLY FRIDAY MORNING WHEN JUNIOR OFFICERS IN THE 800-STRONG ARMY ATTEMPTED TO TAKE OVER TWO BARRACKS IN THE CAPITAL BANJUL.

THERE HAS BEEN GROWING DISILLUSIONMENT AMONG GAMBIA’S ONE MILLION PEOPLE OVER THE NEW GOVERNMENT’S CRACKDOWN ON SUSPECTED CIVILIAN AND MILITARY OPPONENTS.

“THE GAMBIA IS JUST LIKE ONE BIG FAMILY”, SAYS A BANJUL RESIDENT. “ANYTHING THAT AFFECTS ONE FAMILY IS LIKELY TO HAVE SERIOUS REPERCUSSIONS IN MANY OTHER FAMILIES”.

SEVERAL ARMY OFFICERS HAVE BEEN DETAINED SINCE JAMMEH’S COUP. AT LEAST 10 MINISTERS HAVE BEEN ROUNDED UP, AND CIVIL SERVANTS FIRED. JOURNALISTS HAVE ALSO BEEN HOUNDED, AND THE PUBLISHER OF THE COUNTRY’S ONLY DAILY NEWSPAPER DEPORTED TO LIBERIA.

THERE IS DEEP UNEASE OVER THE GOVERNMENT’S RECENTLY ANNOUNCED FOUR-YEAR TIMETABLE TO RESTORE CIVILIAN RULE. THERE HAS BEEN OPEN CRITICISM OF THE DELAY IN HANDING OVER POWER IN A COUNTRY WHICH HAS HAD A FUNCTIONING MULTI-PARTY SYSTEM SINCE INDEPENDENCE IN 1965.

LESS THAN 24 HOURS AFTER EX-MINISTERS OF THE DEPOSED PEOPLE’S PROGRESSIVE PARTY (PPP) GOVERNEMNT OF JAWARA WERE RELEASED FROM DETENTION, SOME IN APPALLING PHYSICAL CONDITION, THE ATTEMPTED COUP BEGAN.

DISSIDENT SOLDIERS ATTEMPTED TO STORM YUNDUM AND BAKAU MILITARY BARRACKS — OUTSIDE THE CAPITAL, BANJUL — AND FIREFIGHTS WITH LOYALIST TROOPS CONTINUED FOR SEVERAL HOURS.

BAKAU BARRACKS IS IN A RESIDENTIAL AREA — INHABITED BY SOME 30,000 PEOPLE.

A GOVERNMENT STATEMENT SAID: “THE GOVERNMENT HAS FOILED A COUP PLOT AND THREE PEOPLE — INCLUDING THE COUP LEADER — BASHIRU BARROW — HAVE BEEN KILLED IN THE SHOOTOUT WHICH BROKE OUT AT 3 O’CLOCK ON FRIDAY MORNING”.

 
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