Gambian govt foils coup attempt, arrest four soldiers

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The Gambian government has foiled a coup attempt and arrested four soldiers.

A statement issued on Wednesday by the government said “Based on intelligence reports that some soldiers of the Gambian army were plotting to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Adama Barrow, the (armed forces) in a swift military operation… yesterday arrested four soldiers linked to this alleged coup plot”.

“The arrested soldiers are currently helping the military police with their investigations. Meanwhile, the army is in pursuit of three more alleged accomplices.”

In a separate statement, the Gambian police said they had questioned Momodou Sabally, a former minister of presidential affairs under ex-leader Yahya Jammeh, after a video was released suggesting the president would be overthrown before the next local elections.

The Nigerian News gathered that there were alleged movements by soldiers around the presidential headquarters in the centre of the city on Tuesday evening, and rumours spread during the night of a possible coup.

The people, however, said they had seen no disturbance and 25-year-old Sulayman Njie, a youth advocate and entrepreneur, said he had been attending a national youth conference in Banjul until 4am.

Njie said “We did not see anything unusual”.

Similarly, the lawmaker for Banjul North, Momodou Lamin Bah, said he had also been attending events at the conference, but witnessed nothing out of the ordinary.

Bah noted “There is no security presence here because everything is normal”.

The Gambia is a fragile democratic nation still scarred by a brutal 22-year dictatorship under Jammeh.

Jammeh was defeated in presidential elections in December 2016 by political newcomer Barrow and fled to Equatorial Guinea but retains clout back home.

Speaking to supporters at a rally in The Gambia at the weekend, Jammeh had said he would return soon and would lead the country once more.

Barrow, who was re-elected in December 2021 for a second five-year term with 53 percent of the vote, won a narrow victory in legislative elections in April but fell short of an absolute majority in the 58-seat parliament.

Gambia’s government urged citizens, residents, and diplomatic personnel to “carry on with their normal activities as the situation is under total control and there is no need to panic.”

The Gambia’s international partners are said to be mounting pressure on him to push ahead with reforms to strengthen the country’s democracy, including an overhaul of the security services.

The Gambia, which is the smallest country on the African continent, straddling the river that gives it its name, has a tiny Atlantic coastline but is otherwise surrounded by Senegal.

The densely populated nation was a British colony from 1888 until independence in 1965.

Its first president, former prime minister Dawda Jawara, was overthrown by Jammeh, then a young army officer, in a bloodless coup in 1994.

Jammeh ruled with an iron fist before his surprising election defeat in December 2016 and he initially refused to accept defeat but fled into exile after neighbouring countries intervened.

In 2017, a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) was set up to investigate crimes committed under Jammeh.

The commission heard almost 400 witnesses, both victims and former “Junglers”, or members of the regime’s death squads.

The commission’s report, issued in November 2021, recorded a litany of death squads, arbitrary arrests, torture, and disappearances, and drew up a list of officials it said should be prosecuted.

On Wednesday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it “strongly condemns” the coup attempts and “stands firmly by the democratically elected government” in The Gambia.

West Africa has been hit by a series of military power seizures since 2020, in Mali, Guinea and most recently in Burkina Faso.

The turbulence, along with a wave of jihadism that has spread across the Sahel, prompted leaders of the regional bloc, ECOWAS, this month to decide on setting up an intervention force to reinforce stability.

However, the scheme has run into doubts among military chiefs, who discussed it in Guinea-Bissau on Monday.

A report of their talks said there was the risk of overlap with the bloc’s existing doctrine on intervention, and questioned whether such missions could be feasible in countries where coups are supported by a large section of the public or the armed forces.

The bloc has had its ECOMIG force in The Gambia since January 2017, mainly to provide security for the president and members of government.

The bloc has recently renewed its mandate for a further year starting from January 1, but also recommended that its roll call, currently several hundred, be reduced.