Major Wassa Camara Maintains Innocence in Bloody Students Demo, TRRC Vows to Probe His Testimony
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission’s Lead Counsel Essa Mbye Faal said the TRRC will arrive at a conclusion regarding the testimony of witness Major Wassa Camara who persistently denied playing any direct or indirect role in the alleged tortures and killings of students in the April 11, 2000 students’ demonstration.
The incident took place mainly at Brikama-Ba where at least two students were gunned down while others suffered lifetime injuries. Soldiers who were deployed from nearby Kudang barracks were under the then lieutenant Wassa Camara as Officer Commanding. They also faced some torture allegations in regional administrative town of Central River Region, Jangjangbureh where scores of students were detained at Armitage High School.
Wassa told the TRRC that their mission was to simply quell tension in the affected areas and he had advised his men not to beat any student. According to him, they first went to Jangjangbureh where they found out that students had already destroyed the GAMTEL communication cable and they were switching their attention to burn the community’s market, which was prevented due to their timely arrival.
Some students claimed that they were arrested, detained and beaten by soldiers led by Camara. But he denied taking part, giving orders and even having knowledge about this evidence.
“It could be possible that they were beaten during that operation. Like I said I don’t deny the fact that students had been beaten. It could have happened but not to my knowledge. I was present but I did not see any student being arrested and beaten.”
In repeated enquiries from the counsel about whether he has knowledge about the torture claimed by the students. He insisted he had no knowledge.
“I am trying to put across facts – facts which happened in my presence on the 11th April 2000 students’ demonstration.” Major Camara said.
According to him, he could not be at every part of the Armitage High School campus to be able to see the beatings as claimed by the students.
Wassa indicated that upon arrival at Jangjangbureh, he advised students to avoid destroying public facilities.
However, he later confirmed that the detained students were beaten at Armitage High School, but he only came to realize this days after the incident during his periodic visits – and not on the day of demonstration.
“Subsequently, after the operation which was on the 11th of April, there were a group of soldiers who were left there to be in charge of students who were being kept at a girls’ dormitory…The students were complaining that they had been beaten and so we advised those in charge not to beat anybody if it had happened.”
“The instruction given to them was that if at all they were torturing let them stop beating them.” Major Camara maintained.
At this time, he admitted that the soldiers who were accused of beating the students were under the authority of the Officer Commanding, though under the immediate authority of Staff Sergeant Jatta.
He agreed that it’s criminal and a court martial-able offence to beat suspects under detention.
However, he denied that it was an abdication of responsibilities on their part as superiors for failing to investigate and prosecute their men on allegations of torture against students.
“Why I am saying no is simply because immediately that complaint was brought to my notice, I addressed those in charge that they shouldn’t beat them. I addressed it. I told the personnel in charge of that security to stop beating the students under custody.”
Wassa insisted that it was not his responsibility to investigate or prosecute the alleged torturers as his role was to collect information and supply it to his superiors for further directives.
Testifying on the bloody scene at Brikama-Ba where two students were shot to death while several were injured, Wassa said the casualties had found him in Bansang when contacted by one 1st Class CID Officer Darboe. According to him, Darboe sought his urgent presence at the scene.
“He told me that there was a casualty at Brikama-Ba police station – that a student was killed. I asked how did that happen and he said he couldn’t tell but somebody was killed. I tried to contact the Commanding Officer (his superior) who was left at Jangjangbureh, but I couldn’t because I think the GAMTEL communication cable was down at Jangjangbureh.”
“I used my initiative this time that since there is a loss of life in Brikama-Ba and I should go there and see if I could quell the situation. Before going to Brikama-Ba, I went straight to the hill to retrieve my personnel who were posted there,” he told the TRRC.
According to him, he left Bansang at around 11am or 12 noon and upon arrival, he saw soldiers beating up some civilians who were found on the main highways and ordered them to stop. He confirmed that he also ordered his men to arrest civilians who were on the highways just to ensure tranquility.
He conceded that his lapse was his failure to have gone to the ground where there were casualties – adding that, he only came to realize the additional killing of others after he left Brikama-Ba.
“I was only in the picture of one person that was killed,” he said.
Throughout his testimony, the lead counsel, Faal, had advanced several warnings to the witness regarding truth-telling. He emphasized that the commission will draw a conclusion based on the evidence from other witnesses against that of Wassa’s.
Major Wassa Camara is due to reappear before the commission later to give account of his arrest, alleged torture and incarceration following the 2006 foiled coup led by slain former Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) Colonel Ndure Cham.
Meanwhile, the TRRC’s second witness of the day, WO1 Lamin Camara has taken responsibility for a collective action in killing the students in Brikama-Ba.
“I know that I was not aware of the killings. But if you are the head and your subordinates did something, then you cannot escape from that. I have taken the responsibility,” he confessed.
However, he denied allegations of arresting and torturing students during the demonstration. “I am not aware of that.”
Camara was the superior to five soldiers who were deployed from Farafenni barracks. He confirmed that one of his men lost a whole magazine with life-round bullets. He also confirmed that one bullet was fired and he admitted the possibility that the missing bullet could have killed someone.
He named Lance Corporal Abdou Giri Njie now a Staff Sergeant, Private Alieu Kambi, Private P.J Mendy (died in Darfur), Private Lamin Camara and himself as the team that came from Farafenni.
Camara claimed that he enlisted in The Gambian Army in 1982 as an electrician. He has since been working in the engineering unit of The Gambia Armed Forces.