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July 1994 coup was an accident, says fifth commission witness

Gambia's former President Yahya Jammeh who now lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea

The fifth witness before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission probing the human rights violations of former dictator Yahya Jammeh has described the 22 July 1994 military takeover as a “fluke”.

Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh who now lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea

Aboubacarr Jeng, a senior police officer at the time of the coup, said the military takeover could have been repealed with “proper resistance”.

“The July 1994 coup was a fluke. If there was a proper resistance, we will not be talking about 1994 today. It was poorly organized. These were angry people and you could even see that the leadership was not structured. You cannot stage a coup if you do not even have a statement in terms of the rationale,” said Jeng on Tuesday.

Jammeh has ruled Gambia for 22 years during which he presided over one of Africa’s most brutal regimes.

Described often as “enigmatic”, Gambia’s former ruler who now lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea was not kind to political opponents and journalists. Much about how he ascended to power and his rule remain secret until he left on December 2016.

But as the Commission started on January 7, the truth about Jammeh and his military collaborators and how they came to power is coming to light.

Jeng said the coup would not have succeed if there was a “credible resistance”. One critical factor that made the takeover easy for Jammeh was the easy ride they have encountered at the Denton Bridge.

In the morning of July 22, the armed wing of the Gambian police were deployed at the Denton Bridge under the command of ex-Major Amadou Suwareh and asked to shoot at sight any military officer who attempted to cross the bridge.

Suwareh who would join the coup and abandon his post with his men told the Commission that his decision was made to “avoid a bloodbath”. Jeng thinks his excuse was not good enough.

“If I was the one at the bridge, I will not necessarily surrender that easily. Perhaps, I will go on record, after the fact that he did his best, but his best was best under the circumstances… I would have engaged in discussion…,” said Jeng.

“If I was given a task to go to the bridge not to allow these people to cross, if I know I am not able to do it, I will be honest to say, I will not be able to do it.

“The fact remains that police did not have weapons that commensurate with what the military have but if the leadership that was tasked to do what it was supposed to do at the bridge (Denton Bridge) was shrewd enough, you may not necessarily fight…

“Fighting is a last resort, probably if someone has used reasoning, persuasion, it might have been a different ball game. But it is all about the leadership at the bridge that did not live up to expectation.”

Meanwhile, Jeng is currently a deputy security adviser for the United Nations Department of Safety and Security. He was a senior police officer in Gambia who retired in 2012 and has a wealth of experience in security and safety matters.

He worked very closely with the AFPRC junta serving as their very first secretary before he was detained in Mile Two for 18 months.

Jeng has also recounted his experience under the Gambia police, saying they were underequipped and under-resourced.

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