By Yankuba Jallow
An erstwhile Lance Corporal of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) has admitted killing two and injuring several in Brikamaba during the April 2000 mass students’ demonstration.
Abdou Njie alias Giri appeared before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in connection to his participation in the killings, arrests and torture of several students during the students’ demonstration. The students demonstrated was precipitated by the Government’s failure to investigate into the death of one Ebrima Barry allegedly caused by torture by fire service officers and the alleged rape of Binta Manneh. Both Barry and Manneh were students.
The 49 – year – old said on the 10th April 2000, he was on duties at the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) at the Farafenni Barracks. He said they were assembled at a point and addressed by Captain Keita who briefed them about an ongoing strike in McCarthy (now Janjanbureh) and said they should go and quell the demonstration. He said Captain Keita issued them with two magazines of blank bullets amounting to 60 bullets. He said these blank bullets do not kill people.
“I had four magazines. If you put them together, I was having 120 bullets,” he said.
He said it was a standard procedure in the army that anyone on duties at the QRF would be issued 4 magazines amounting to 120 bullets. He said after completion of duties, the magazines were returned and the person signed.
“Every bullet is accounted for at the end of that soldier’s duty,” the witness said, adding that if a bullet is missing the soldier would have a problem.
He said those who were not at the QRF were issued both live ammunition and blanks.
He said at the time they were leaving, their commander ordered them to stop the students from destroying properties as it had happened in Serrekunda.
“We were told to protect the students and to prevent them from destroying properties,” the witness said.
He said when they arrived at Brikamaba, the station officer of the police station stopped their vehicle and five of them were asked to alight from the vehicle while the others proceeded with their Captain to McCarthy. He said the station officer told them that the students said they were going to kill the school principal and burn both GAMTEL and the police station. He said Corporal Lamin Camara was the leader and he was the second in command adding that they arrived in Brikamaba in the evening.
He said they went to the alkali of the village and informed him about their mission. He said they were going round the village and telling people about their mission.
“We were telling them that our mission was for peace,” he said.
He said early in the morning of the 11th April, the five of them went to the school with the intention of reaching the students. He said when the students saw them, some of them began running, but they called them back telling them that ‘we were here for you.’
He said a while later, two tractors carrying students came demanding for the release of their head boy and head girl. He added that the students were throwing stones at them.
“Our Corporal asked us to leave the school and while we were running to the police station, the students crowd became large and our Corporal ordered us to fire at them,” the witness said.
He said this was the time when he started shooting the students with the blank bullets.
“When I checked my blank and I realized that they are finished then I connected the live rounds. I was firing in the air and I later heard two people died,” he said.
“It was then I realized that I have killed people. I cannot remove myself from those who killed them, but I am telling you (the Commission) that I fired in the air. I did not shoot directly at the people; I was shooting into the air,” the witness said.
The witness said he was the one who killed Sainey Nyabally and Ousman Sabally and leaving seven injured.
“I agreed that I pointed the gun at them,” the witness admitted, after several questions by the Commission’s Lead Counsel told the witness that a bullet pointed into the air cannot kill people standing on the ground and injure 7 people.
He said the firing happened around the GAMTEL. He said the crowd of students was about five hundred (500) people. He said the students burnt tyres.
“The students were were stoning for a long time. They would have overcome us and that was why we used our weapons because we did not have options,” he said.
The witness told the Commission that no stone touched him.
“My blank was exhausted. Alieu Kambi’s blanks were exhausted and all of us there have our blanks were exhausted,” he said.
“I fired at the students on my own discretion,” he told the Commission after several follow up questions by Counsel Faal.
He said later in the day, there was reinforcement from Basse Barracks and they were conducting the arrest of students. He said they took them to McCarthy. He added that some of the arrested students were taken to the Brikamba Police Station. He denied having participated in the arrest of the students.
“I participated in the beating of the students at the (Brikamaba) police station. They were many – everyone who was brought to the police station was beaten by us,” he said.
He apologized and sought forgiveness from the families of the two students he had killed during the course of the scuffle.
He said he participated in the trampling of students on the hot tar road. He said those who participated were Paul J. Mendy, Lamin Camara, Alieu Kambi and other soldiers who came from Basse, adding that Corporal Camara did not participate in the torture of the students. He said they were acting on the orders of Lieutenant Baldeh from Basse Barracks.
“He (Baldeh) fired his pistol in the air and told his men to get them. His men chased the students and captured some of them,” he said.
He said captured students were taken to the police station and when the station couldn’t accommodate the students, it was the time Lieutenant Baldeh gave the order that they lie on the hot tar road awaiting to be transported to Janjanbureh.
“We were doing things on our own. The number of students who were asked to lie on the tar road were about 10,” he said.
He said he did not escort the students to Janjanbureh. He said village elders came to the stations and requested from their command that they should stay for a while. He said this was approved by their authorities and the villagers were providing them with food every day during their one month stay in Brikamaba.
About the Witness
Abdou Njie said he was born on the 15th August 1970 in Kerr Ardo in Badibou – North Bank Region.
He said he went to Njawara Primary School and proceeded to Kerewan Secondary school where he completed his schooling. He said he was enlisted in the Gambian National Army (GNA) in 1991. He said he did his military training in Farafenni and they completed their training in 1992 January. He said he spent 10 years before receiving his first promotion to the rank of Lance Corporal.
He said his nickname Giri was given to him by his school teachers because he was an athlete.