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Robust Questions and Flaring Emotions: Lead Counsel Faal and Ex-Army Chief Square Up at TRRC

Emotions flared at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission Thursday as the Lead Counsel Essa Faal and former Army chief Baboucarr Jatta squared up over events of the aftermath of the July 1994 military coup.

Multiple TRRC witnesses have implicated Colonel Jatta in the summary execution of soldiers accused of taking part in the 11 November, 1994 alleged coup plot. In his testimony, he said he was informed by the then Vice Chairman of the AFPRC military junta, Sana Sabally that some soldiers at the Yundum Barracks were planning to overthrow the junta. He told the commission that while the alleged coup leader, Lt. Basiru Barrow was already detained at the Yundum Barracks on the night of November 11, Sabally showed him (Jatta) a list with names of officers targeted for execution by the alleged coup plotters if they had succeeded.

“The list included all the Council members and myself,” he testified.

Jatta said his name on the list was written in black ink while the rest of the names were written in blue. Asked by Faal if he was angry at the alleged coup plotters after seeing the list, he responded that he was not angry. He however recalled requesting to see Lt. Barrow.

Baboucarr Jatta during army days

“Lt. Barrow was brought out of the cell. I asked him ‘what is this?’ His mouth was swollen and bleeding.” He told the TRRC that Lt. Barrow was tortured.

Jatta confessed that he led Sabally and other junta leaders and their loyal soldiers to attack Fajara Barracks on 11th November, 1994 to ‘crush’ remnants of the alleged abortive coup. He explained the military tactics he ordered the troops to follow as they attacked and took control of the barracks and overpowered the ‘remnants’. Tempers flared when Faal put to Jatta that he was standing on an extended line of soldiers facing those who were arrested and detained.

Baboucarr Jatta at the TRRC

“It’s good that we clarify this. I was not standing on that line,” Jatta responded. He got upset as Faal interrupted him when he started explaining about responsibility and morality.

“Allow us. You don’t know about military…,” Jatta remarks angrily.

“Mr. Jatta it’s your own subordinate, a private soldier who is saying that his commander of the army, the person who commanded the operation was standing there in the extended line. It’s not me saying that. So you either accept or you deny,” Faal responded.

Jatta denied standing on the line where arrested soldiers were shot from.

The former army chief also testified that when six soldiers who were arrested and detained at Yundum Barracks were being driven to the Nyambai Forest in Brikama for execution, he joined Sabally and others but argued his decision to follow them was to try and talk Sabally out of the plans for execution.

The edge of Nyambai Forest in Brikama photo credit: Access Gambia

The Lead Counsel repeatedly told him that his presence at the forest wasn’t to stop the executions but to take part in them. The two men squared up again, with Jatta suggesting Faal didn’t understand military issues.

As the bitter arguments continued, the Chairman of the TRRC, Dr. Lamin J. Sisay had to intervene on at least two occasions to cool off the tension.

Jatta admitted being present during the Fajara Barracks and forest executions but denied taking part in the shootings.

He told the TRRC that after the execution and the dead bodies were dumped at Yundum Barracks, he ordered soldiers there to bury them someone in the barracks. But he denied that the burial in a mass grave was to conceal the killings from the public and to protect the junta.

The former army chief also gave details of the July 1994 military coup and the post-94 plights of soldiers which might have contributed to the coup.

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