“I Take Responsibility for Whatever Happened to the Students” Says Ex-PIU Commander
The former commanding officer of The Police Intervention Unit (PIU), Momodou Ceesay, has taken full responsibility for “whatever happened to the students” on April 10th, 2000 during a violent demonstration which led to several deaths and injuries.
Several students were killed, beaten, and injured at the Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) grounds, which is less than a kilometer from the PIU headquarters in Kanifing, which also houses the commander’s office.
Appearing before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) Tuesday, Ceesay, 47, admitted that the students were peaceful and not aggressive before the scene became chaotic. However, the students refused to disperse when he advised them to do so which led to commotion.
“They (the students) were very peaceful to be frank with you Counsel. It was my men who chased and beat them,” he said.
He admitted to ordering his men to disperse the students as they were becoming agitated by blocking the traffic.
“The students were chased, beaten and some of them were arrested. We dispersed them because they were blocking the traffic. I take full responsibility for whatever happened at GTTI on the 10th of April 2000,” he told the TRRC.
He recalled receiving a call from the Commander of Operations of Gambia Police Force, Babucarr Sowe, on the 9th of April 2000, who informed him about the impending students’ demonstration and the need for standby.
The next morning, he found his men fully dressed in riot gear and he briefed them about the mission that was supposed to be carried out. According to him, he told them the need to ensure law and order is maintained.
“None of the 50 men carried a gun,” he said.
He recalled that his men went with helmets, tear gas and batons. According to him, the personnel who carried guns were those officers who were posted to embassies and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) headquarters. He said he inspected his men and they proceeded to GTTI.
At GTTI, Ceesay said, he saw students gathered as well as soldiers from the Fajara Barracks. He remembered addressing the students for them to disperse, but the students did not heed his advice.
“I could notice they were becoming agitated. I took the public address (PA) system asking them to leave and go home or else the PIU will disperse them. I turned to the PIU and told them that the situation was becoming agitated and I asked them to disperse them. At the time we arrived, the crowd of students were peaceful,” he said.
Ceesay also confirmed that students were not armed during the demonstration.
He was a police trainer at the police training school before being redeployed to head the Police Intervention Unit in 1996. He currently works for the United Nations in Sudan.