We want Ecowas soldiers out of our village, Gambia's Jammeh loyalists say

The Gambia's Police Intervention Unit arrest protestors in Kanilai village in the West Coast region following clashes with troops serving under the Ecowas Mission in The Gambia (Ecomig) on June 2, 2017. PHOTO| BABOUCARR CEESAY 

Residents of The Gambia'sKanilai village in the West Coast region have renewed their demands for the removal of West African troops, and are now calling for the return of exiled former president Yahya Jammeh.

In January this year, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) deployed its forces to stabilise the country after the long-serving Jammeh refused to cede power when he lost the December 2016 presidential election to Adama Barrow,leading to a political standoff.

Since then, tension has been high in Kanilai, the home of the former president, with residents insisting that troops serving under the Ecowas Mission in The Gambia (Ecomig) must leave the village over what they term as mistreatment of civilians.

resident Yahya Jammeh of Gambia gestures before casting his vote in a polling station in Banjul during the election on December 1, 2016. PHOTO | AFP

Clashes on Friday June 2, 2017 between Ecomig troops and protestors left one man Haruna Jatta, 63, dead and a number of villagers injured.

Residents told this Africa Review reporter who visited Kanilai on Saturday June 3 that Mr Jatta was shot in the abdomen and died at the Bwain hospital where he was taken for medical attention.

Lala Jammeh, a middle-aged woman who accompanied the deceased to hospital said Mr Jatta was not attended to promptly.

"Jatta was left in the ambulance in the hot sun while bleeding profusely from his abdomen with his intestines sticking out," said Lala. “I tried to use my handkerchief to keep the intestines in place. He was later attended to by a nurse as he cried out for help.”

The deceased's daughter Fatou Jatta, 29, described her father as a "very good man" who earned his livelihood through farming.

“I have no appeal to make to the authorities since they have such powers as to kill my father,” she said as tears rolled freely down her cheeks.

Protests

Witnesses said residents marched to the base of the Ecomig troops at the ex-president Jammeh's mansion in Kanilai during the Friday protests, burning tires along the tarred road while chanting "we want soldiers out!"

Some youths were allegedly armed with weapons such as cutlasses and big sticks.

Upon arriving at the mansion, Ecomig troops allegedly fired shots at the protestors.

Some villagers said there were initial warning shots but the protestors were undeterred. The Police Intervention Unit (PIU) moved in to help quell the riots.

A number of people were arrested and detained at the Sibanor police station in the area.

Sources said almost two dozen people are in custody and more are still being arrested. Many others are fleeing their homes for safety.

Two of the injured protestors are said to be in critical condition at Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital in Banjul where they were admitted.

Govt admission

The public relations officer of the Gambia Armed Force Lt. Col. Omar Bojang said that he was aware of the shooting in the area.

Lt. Colonel Bojang said that the presence of the security forces in Kanilai was to protect the territorial integrity of the country and its people, since the area is near a conflict zone.

He said that the Friday incident occurred due to rising tension between the Ecomig soldiers and area residents - even though there were moments of peaceful encounter between the two groups prior to the shooting - resulting in the injuries of six people and the unfortunate death of one person.

Kanilai borders the restive Casamance region in southern Senegal, which has witnessed more than three decades of rebellion with anti-government forces demanding for independence from the rest of the country.

Violence

However, some residents in Kalinai dispute claims that the protest was violent.

Yusupha Bojang, a young man wearing a T-shirt bearing former president Jammeh’s portrait said the demonstrators were unarmed and peaceful, "but the soldiers shot back using live ammunition."

His sentiments were echoed by David Kujabi, also a resident of of Kanilai, who was carrying a spent AK47 copper bullet allegedly used against the protestors.

“We are advocating for the soldiers to leave because we don’t know and don’t trust their mission here,” said Kujabi, adding that there were complaints from villagers about mistreatment particularly towards children and the elderly.

Ebou Jammeh, an aide to the Kanilai village head Bakary Jammeh said that children were no longer attending school due to the volatile security situation.

“We cannot be comfortable seeing soldiers armed to the teeth in our village and roaming our streets,” Ebou said.

He said they want the soldiers to vacate their village, adding that Kalinai had never experienced such military presence during Jammeh’s time. He said residents feel that the return of the former president would pacify the region.

“The worst are the Senegalese forces; the Gambian soldiers are a bit friendly,” said Ebou.

Ecomig is composed of Senegalese, Ghanaian, Malian, Togolese and Nigerian forces.

Economic Community of West African States, soldiers patrol in front of the Second Battalion Camp in Farafegny on January 22, 2017. The Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh flew out on January 21, 2017 from the country he ruled for 22 years to cede power to President Adama Barrow and end a political crisis. PHOTO | AFP

Amicable solution

A councillor Kaddy Badjie condemned the presence of Ecomig in the West Coast region.

“Is Kanilai in particular and Foni as a whole a threat to the new government,” she questioned?

National Assembly member for Foni Musa Amul Nyassi said the residents of Kanilai have expressed fears due to the heavy military presence.

He said he received complaints from the residents that the Ecomig soldiers at Kangfenda hold their people hostage and tell them to perform “monkey dances” as punishment.

He added that had he known about the the situation earlier he would have intervened and pushed for an amicable solution to the problem that has now morphed into a fierce confrontation between the residents and the military.

“I am advising the residents to remain calm, peace-loving and law-abiding as a way to nurture peace and stability,” said Nyassi.

He also appealed to the authorities to resolve the situation amicably.

“The former President Jammeh before his departure said that he will not allow the security, peace and stability of The Gambia to be compromised,” Nyassi said.
Political party Gambia Democratic Congress led by Mamma Kandeh also condemned the killing of "an unarmed civilian" in Kanilai.

“The use of firearms was unnecessary to quell a peaceful demonstration by civilians and defeats the purpose of fighting against 22 years of misrule,” said a statement issued by the party.

GDC described the incident as a catastrophic intelligence failure that "demonstrates government's failure to stitch together our much divided society," adding that the government’s "snail pace efforts towards reconciliation will only further divide our society."

GDC extended its condolences to the families of the victims and urged government to investigate the incident and address the situation without delay.

Justification

On his part, Interior Minister Mai Ahmad Fatty said that Ecomig forces would not have been in The Gambia, had the former president accepted the will of the people and peacefully handed over power to a newly elected democratic government.

He said every citizen and every part of The Gambian territory is subject to the law.

“Reports reveal that groups of civilians armed with traditional weapons proactively engage members of the security forces in the area, make demands one of which is the removal of security personnel from Kanilai in particular the Ecomig forces,” said the minister.

He added that no part of Gambia shall be permitted to be an island in as far as enforcing the law is concerned.

“Impunity shall not be accepted from any community or settlement in the Gambia,” said Mr Fatty.

“A security situation existed which necessitated the interventions of Ecowas, which led to the presence of Ecowas troops in The Gambia,” he said.

Mr Fatty described Ecomig forces as Gambia’s guests.

“Ecomig is here to support Gambia’s security stabilisation so that the country can consolidate its democratic gains in accordance with international rules of engagement,” said Mr Fatty

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