By Yankuba Jallow
An ex-Commander of the Kundang military camp denied having a hand in the deaths of Ousman Sabally and Sainey Nyabally during the April 2000 mass students’ demonstration.
Major Wassa Camara told the TRRC that none of his men has shot or tortured any of the demonstrators during the April 2000 mass students’ demonstration.
He said his men were deployed to Janjanbureh, Bansang and Brikamaba towns to control the students’ demonstration.
He said he was the Adjutant in Farafenni and was in charge of Kudang and Basse military posts. He added that in April 2000, he was in charge of Kudang Military Post and on this day, he received calls from his CEO, Captain Babucarr Keita and Babucarr Jatta, a former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
He said the CEO told him that there was a students’ demonstration ongoing in the Greater Banjul Area and that they should be on standby and wait for further instructions.
He said Mamadou Sankareh Badjie, the then deputy CDS also called him to say that they should be on standby. He said he informed his men about the information he had received from his seniors and told them to be on standby.
He testified that Babucarr Keita, the then CEO of Kudang called him in the evening and told him that the students were about to go out and that they have spoken to them but they were not willing to put a hold to the intended demonstration.
At this juncture, Lead Counsel Faal asked him whether he could recall giving a statement, he responded in the positive. He was then asked by Counsel to read paragraph 4, which he did.
The witness told the Commission that based on information gathered from their intelligence; they were informed that students were having stones and sticks.
He said at the Jangjanbureh Ferry Crossing Point, they found that the ferry was moved and tied at aside. He said they carried AK-47 with life ammunition and each soldier was having magazines carrying 120 rounds.
He testified: “We advised them not to use their rifles against the students even if they are being stoned at.”
He added that an order of operations was not given to them.
“For that particular operations, there was no operations order and rule of engagements given,” said the witness.
He denied receiving any operations order from any of his authorities after he was shown a document indicating that he was issued orders in the April 2000 Commission of Inquiry Report.
He said when they crossed the river, they found that fire was lit in different locations and at the market, they found students about to burn it but they pursued them away. However, he said they found that the Police Station was burnt.
The witness further testified that the Jangjanbureh GAMTEL was also vandalized; adding they were able to control students through double patrols. Students wanted to break the Prison but they were stopped, he said.
Around 5 am, they jumped into the school and students that were found there were called at the basketball lawn and CEO Captain Keita addressed them. He said he advised them that ‘they are the future leaders of the country and one day they would be in positions and they will receive complaints that they will be required to address.’
On whether students were arrested, he said they were just kept in the school
“Their liberty to demonstrate and move around was seized and after breakfast, I was tasked by the CEO to go to Bansang.”
“I told soldiers that they have no authority to beat, shoot or slap anyone,” the said in response to one Alieu Saidykhan’s testimony that he was tortured by soldiers at the time they were taking them to the basketball lawn.
He said at Brikamaba, he saw soldiers beating students and he ordered them to discontinue the practice.
At this juncture, Faal told him that he was denying the responsibility of beating the students, but he responded in the negative saying he did not torture them. However, a statement from one Musa Mendy alleged that the soldiers were beating students.
He said after Brikamaba, he proceeded to Kuntaur because they were informed that the students were planning to demonstrate there. He said he returned to Kudang on the 16th or 17th April 2000.
Major Camara testified that during the course of his periodical visits to the areas where the demonstrations took place, he used to receive grievances from students that they were beaten but soldiers involved in the torture were not investigated or prosecuted.
“That was an abdication of responsibility,” Counsel Faal put it to the witness, but he answered back in the negative; adding that it was not a failure of responsibility.
According to him, when he went to Bansang, he set up 3 sentries to secure the GAMTEL Antenna meant for the National TV. He said he later addressed students and told them to go back and help their parents rather than vandalize public properties. He said he later went to Brikamaba to retreat his personnel that were posted there. However, he was quick to add that his men neither beat nor tortured any student.
The witness confirmed that people were arrested but denied issuing orders for their arrest. He said it could have been from the other troops from Basse and Farafenni. He said he called on Lieutenant Samba Bah, the head of the Basse troop to retreat from the place and this was how the torture was stopped. He acknowledged that apart from Samba Bah, he was the most senior officer on the ground and they would have responsibility for all soldiers that were present.
On the causalities at Brikamaba, he said the police should have investigated the cause of their deaths.
About the witness
Born on the 1st January 1972, he said he attended Methodist Primary School from 1979 to 1986 and proceeded to Armitage High School from 1986 to 1992.
He said he was enlisted in the Army in 1992 after serving the Gambia National Gendarmerie.
Major Camara said the ‘Junglers’ training he did in Ghana is different from the Junglers training in the Gambia because‘Junglers’ in The Gambia were assigned to be arresting people and killing them which is contrary to what they are expected to do.
Major Camara would re-appear before the Commission to talk about his own torture by soldiers of Gambia National Army.