By Nelson Manneh
A former military instructor for Charles Taylor’s NPFL Forces has given a vivid picture of how he and his accomplice launched a violent military assault on Farafenne barracks in 1996.
Testifying before the Truth Commission, Omar Joof Dampha, said he was born in June 1964 in Lower River Region. He attended Pakalinding Primary school and Pakalinding senior secondary school. He completed his secondary school in 1980.
He said when he completed his schooling; he joined his namesake at his company to undergo training in plumbing.
The witness said he later left the trade and joined the Gambia Army Force in 1984, and they started their training in January 1985. After completing their training in 1986; he was sent to Senegal for military training.
“In Senegal, we went through a lot of training among them was the commando training. When we came back, I went back to Army headquarters,” he said.
The witness said he did not have a job when he left the military, adding he was then introduced to one Dr. Manneh. He said he was told that Dr. Manneh has hospitals in Liberia and he wants to employ ex-servicemen from the Gambia.
He said he agreed to go to Liberia to pick up the job, but when he reached there, he later knew that Dr. Manneh was Kukoi Samba Sanyang (the 1981 coup plotter).
He said when they were going to Liberia, they passed through Senegal and boarded a train to Mali where they spent a night and left for Liberia. He said when they reached Liberia they could not see the said Dr. Manneh (Kukoi Samba Sanyang).
He said he went to Liberia with Swandi Camara, the late Dawda Nyassi and the late Lamin Darboe.
“We spent two weeks in Burkina Faso and they later brought a plane for us to go to Liberia. When we entered the aircraft, we saw a man, (who was fair in completion) and we were told that he was Charles Taylor,” he said.
He said when they reached Liberia; they were taken to Bo County by a vehicle. He said when they arrived there; bullets were raining at that settlement.
He said they were then taken to one general Yanks. He said when he reached general Yanks’ residence; he realized that there were Gambians in Liberia.
“One Jerreh Colley the body guard of Charles Taylor was a general and there were other few Gambian generals in Liberia,” he said.
The witness said they spent two months in Liberia before they saw Kukoi. He said when they met with Kukoi, they sat down and had a meeting with him.
“What we found out was that they wanted us to help Charles Tailor in Liberia and later come to Gambia in order to overthrow President Jawara, because at that time Jawara was the President of the Gambia,” he said.
He said because they were ex-soldiers, they were taken to Cobra base in Liberia, adding they were the ones who trained the other soldiers they met there.
He said the war in Liberia started in 1992 and it was caused by the ECOMOG soldiers who went to Liberia, adding that it was not Charles Taylor who attacked the government at the time, but it was the ECOMOG soldiers who attacked Charles Tailor’s men.
“In Liberia, we were respected and they used to call us Special Forces,” he said.
He said he was in Liberia up to 1994 and in 1995, Kukoi told them to come back to the Gambia. He said they did not have documents when they were returning to the Gambia, but Kukoi issued Senegalese ID Cards to them. He however said he (Kukoi) did know how he got those documents.
“When we came to the Gambia, we were divided in to two groups. The other group was at Tamba Kunda in Senegal whilst I was in the other group. Some people from the Gambia joined us in Senegal, but I think those people were not soldiers,” he said.
He said they did not have guns whilst they were in Senegal.
“When we were in Liberia, Charles Taylor told us to come back to the Gambia because Yahya Jammeh and others have overthrown President Jawara,” he said,
The witness said they wanted to overthrow Yahya Jammeh’s government in 1996 and that he was part of the group that attacked the Farafenni Barracks.
The witness said he, Kabiro Demba, late Abdoulie Sonko, Mbalo Kanteh, Karamo Gibba, Kebba Sano and the late Yaya Drammeh (known as the invisible iron face) attacked the Farafenni Military barracks.
He said they went through a lot of difficulties whiles they were in Liberia.
The witness said they had only two guns when they reached Farafenni in November 1996, and their mission was to capture the whole Barracks.
He said they went through the back gate of the Barracks and met the sentry man smoking. He said he then said to him “sentry man you are smoking” and the sentry man placed his gun down and ran away. He said they then they decided to proceed to the Amory and broke it.
He said in the morning they decided to advance towards Banjul and on their way, they met Peter Sighinatey and his troops and they shout at each other and then ran to the bush. He said on the following night, he went with Essa Baldeh back to Farafenni and escaped to Senegal.
He said they did not see any soldier when they took over the Farafenni Barracks, adding they only met one Biran Saine, whom they captured.
He said when he escaped to Senegal with Essa he went with him to his wife’s compound, adding he married a Senegalese woman before he left for Liberia.
The witness said in Senegal, they were captured by the Senegalese Intelligence Agency who took them to one Police Station in where they spent the night before they were brought back to the Gambia the following day.
“When we reached the Gambia, we were taken to the NIA headquarters. They took us to ‘Bamba Dinka’. In the morning, we were moved to another cell before we appeared on television,” he said.
The witness they were tortured several times whiles they were detained at the NIA, adding among those who tortured them was one Baba Dinding Joberteh, Pa Harry Sambou, Foday Barry and Salmina Drammeh.
He said Pa Harry Jammeh was the worst of all those who tortured them because he was the one who used to order the NIA officials to torture them. He said they were tortured on a daily basis.
The witness said they were later taken to Mile 2, adding they used to lie down on the floor for two years.
He said at mile 2 prison, there was one Jagai, who served as the commander of the torture squad. He added Jagai used to give orders for them to be beaten.
“The condition at Mile Two was worse, because we went to prison in January and it was very cold at that time, and we were not provided with blankets,” he said.
He said they were given a lawyer through the Legal Aid scheme and they only saw their lawyers in court. According to him, whilst they were at mile 2, they did not have access to any lawyer.
He said at the court, he pleaded not guilty to the charges proffered against them. But they were later convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The witness said they were pardoned by Yahya Jammeh after they served nineteen years in Prison.
He said there was a place at Mile Prison called the VIP cells, adding Halifa Sallah was detained at that place whilst he was there.