By Momodou Jarju
Ex-private soldier and driver, Mafugie Sonko, formerly a gendarmerie before joining Gambia National Army, has revealed to the Truth Commission (TRRC) that he was detained for nine years after his arrest in the fateful night of November 11, 1994 planned coup at the Yundum Barracks.
Testifying before the truth commission yesterday and day before yesterday in his 73rd birthday, Mr. Sonko said he spent 5 years in incarceration at the Old Jeshwang Remand Wing and the remaining years at Mile 2.
According to him, he was released from prison in 2003 without any trial. He was removed from detention wing in Mile 2 and later transferred to the place where convicts where kept.
At Old Jeswang Sonko said he was kept in an isolated cell saying he was not beaten but his hands were tied at behind unless it was time for him to eat, for a little less than a month when they untied him completely.
When he left prison, Sonko said, he went to Fajara Barracks as told to report to the head. But he was told to report to Yundum Barracks instead. When he got to Yundum he was again told that he was to report to Fajara, the to and fro of the two barracks incurred his anger, so he decided to undress the uniform he was wearing and left it at Yundum Barracks and left home. He later worked with Total Company.
He said he was never told the reason for his arrest and subsequent detention but a document he later tendered to the commissioners yesterday with the letter head of the defence headquarters of the Gambia Armed Force, claimed that he was involved in a coup plot of November 11 1994, an allegation he vehemently denied.
Private Sonko said he was not on duty that day and while he was in bed, his senior Lt. Minteh came to his bed, woke him and asked him to transport lieutenants from Fajara Barracks to Yundum Barracks which he did. This was around 10pm, he said. The lieutenants were Basiru Barrow, Musa Jammeh, L.F. Jammeh, Darboe, and Nyancho Sanneh plus himself making it six.
The 25th witness before the TRRC said the vehicle they boarded was a Land Rover-like. No sooner did they arrive at Yundum Barracks, he said, they heard shooting at the barracks by soldiers who hid in flowers targeting them. He said all the lieutenants opened the doors of the vehicle to run and left him alone in the vehicle.
Two of the lieutenants escaped en route the airport direction and the rest including him were captured by Peter Singhateh, Staff Sergeant Samba Batch and several other soldiers captured them and stripped their clothes off.
“We were only left with our underpants. Once we undressed, we were all lying down. We were forced to lie on the ground, kicked, rifle-butted, and compelled to crawl,” he explained and at this juncture, he stood up and demonstrated how they were mistreated.
He said it was there they first told them that they were going to be killed. Asked whether the pain inflicted on him still has effect on his body, he responded in the positive, saying he finds it difficult to raise his left hand.
He said the remaining four (4) of them were transported to Mile 2 prison in Banjul after being detained few minutes at a cell in Yundum Barracks, including Basiru Barrow, Musa Jammeh, Nyancho Sanneh and himself. He explained that they crawled from the Mile 2 gate to the Remand Cell where they met one Dutch Faal whose eye if not destroyed was entirely covered with blood. He said Peter Singhateh, Sanna Sabally, Samba Batch, Sadibou Hydara, Edward Singhateh and other soldiers were present at the Mile 2.
Sonko said Sanna Sabally asked Peter Singhateh to wait for him to seek orders from State House accompanied by Edward Singhateh, Sadibou Hydara and other soldiers. Sabally returned later and informed Peter Singhateh that “we are going to kill them,” he said, adding they took them to Fajara Barracks for the execution.
Dutch Faal could not walk so they (captives) dragged him to help him get into the vehicle that would transport them, Sonko said. Lieutenant Dutch Faal was the first to be shot by Peter Singhateh and others followed.
“After Dutch Faal was separated and shot another shooting took place,” Sonko said and went on to say that he did not died instantly as he could be seen gasping for air even when he was carried into a truck that would later transport them to Yundum Barracks.
Private Sonko said they were separated at Fajara Barracks; the lieutenants and the sergeants were packed at the left side of the field while the privates, corporal and Lance corporals were packed at the right side.
Then the second shooting was aimed at lieutenants and sergeants most of whom fell on the ground. He said the fallen soldiers were shivering and their mouths were making noise he could not explain.
He said there were more than five people he could recall to have been fallen and Lieutenant Basiru Barrow was part of them and Lieutenant Momodou Lamin Jarju and some of his colleagues from the GNA ran away while it was dark.
He said others and himself who did not run were asked to pick up the shot soldiers and put them in Jumbo Lo’s truck. His shirt was soaked with blood in the process. He said was gasping for air still and eventually passed away. He said he only recognized Basiru Barrow and Dutch Faal among the dead bodies in Lo’s tarpaulin truck.
He said Jumbo Lo started the truck and headed to Yundum Barracks as ordered by Sanna Sabally. They reached there almost at dawn and were put in cells.
He also said 12 individuals including one Lieutenant Nyancho Sanneh were transported towards Brikama but he didn’t know where they were taken.