By Dennis Coker
Response to WO1 Malang Camara’s Erroneous Testimony at the TRRC
Almost a quarter century ago, a tragedy of unimaginable proportions took place in The Gambia. Horrific acts of violence were visited on a group of Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s) and Soldiers from The Gambian Army by members of the Military Junta. These Officers led by Sana Sabbally took it upon themselves without recourse to legal entities to summarily execute about a dozen Military personnel. In short, the then AFPRC members acted as Prosecutor and Judge and sentenced those young men to death by firing squad. This violent end to their lives took place on 11th and 12th November 1994.
On 10 November, a day before the tragic event, myself as a Senior Army Officer (Captain at the time) together with Army Chief Babucarr Jatta and other senior officers/officials were ordered to attend a meeting at Yundum Barracks between members of the Junta and Soldiers. The purpose of the gathering was to forestall an impending coup attempt which Council members got wind of about a week prior. Both Sana Sabally and Edward Singarteh addressed the meeting during which they warned the troops against attempting a coup detat. At the end of his address, Singarteh removed his pistol from its holster and pointed towards the sky and fired one shot into the air purportedly to serve notice to the troops that they were serious about crushing any planned coup. At the end of the meeting, we left the Barracks, and I went home. That was the last time I stepped foot in the Barracks in 1994.
It therefore, came to me as a “kick in the stomach” when on 18 March 2019, one WO1 Malang Camara mentioned my name in his testimony before the TRRC (The Commission). In response to a question from Counsel Horeija Bala-Gaye, Camara listed me Dennis Coker as one of the Senior officers present at Yundum on 11 November 1994 when Military personnel were extra judicially executed by Council members under the command of Sana Sabally and subsequently buried in a mass grave. Like I stated in my query to the commission on March 18, 2019, I was nowhere near Yundum Barracks on that fateful day. Witness Camara’s response regarding my presence is a grave error. His statement was outright erroneous, misleading and false. I urge the commission to recall Camara to set the record straight and apologize for this monumental blunder on his part.
It is true that memories fade over time and lapses happen as individuals age. However, witnesses should be cautioned about the consequences of implicating innocent people like myself and others in large-scale atrocities like the massacre that occurred in 1994. The statement against my person by Camara even though false, if left unchallenged could be taken to be true and by the time the whole truth emerges the damage would already have been done.I was several miles away at my Fajara residence when the blood-letting was taking place under the close supervision of Sana Sabbally. It is now becoming the order of the day for witnesses to swear or affirm to tell the whole truth but end up fabricating stories, lying and misleading the public. Implicated persons must take it upon themselves to engage online and traditional media houses to set the record straight.
I am again urging the commission to recall this witness for re-examination so that he could clear the air about this vexed issue of who was or was not present at Yundum on 11 November 1994. I was shocked when Camara mentioned seeing then Captain Samsudeen Sarr at Yundum Barracks on 11 November 1994 even though Sarr was detained at mile two. It was after the lunch break that Camara realized his mistake about Sarr’s presence and recanted his statement; however, he made no mention of me not being present on the day in question. I hope Camara would muster the courage and approach the commission so he could do the same in my case. By so doing the witness would help The Commission in creating a more accurate and impartial record of what happened on one of the darkest days in Gambian history.
Raleigh NC, USA