By Abdoulie John
The Gambia’s former Police Chief on Friday appeared before the Commission probing into circumstances surrounding Faraba Banta bloody protest. A police crackdown on protesters last month led to the loss of lives and serious wounding of civilians and security personnel.
Landing Kinteh told the Commission that on June 18 he was supposed to travel to Dakar, Senegal, when he received news about troubles that erupted in the Kombo East village where protesters clashed with paramilitary forces over sand mining activities in the area.
On that fateful day, he said he had convened a crisis meeting with some of his senior staff including his deputy Mamour Jobe, and Commissioner of Operations Landing Bojang at Police Headquarters in Banjul.
“It was when we were trying to get reports from the ground that I received a phone call from Councilor Nfansu Conteh indicating that protesters were setting his house ablaze,” Kinteh revealed.
Kinteh, the 53rd witness that testified before the Inquiry Panel, resigned two days after the Faraba Banta event which prompted President Adama Barrow to set up a commission of inquiry to look into the root causes of the problem.
Mr. Kinteh said a breakdown of communication made it hard to get reports from the ill-equipped police personnel deployed in Faraba. The communication, which was done through cell phone, exposed them to network disruptions.
He added that an electricity blackout made things worse for them.
At this juncture, Commissioner Neneh Cham asked Kinteh whether they were able to get any reports of the situation in Faraba.
“I got another call from Director General Ousman Sowe of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), informing me about the death of one protester,” he replied. He said the news about the loss of life had compelled him to cancel his trip to neighbouring Senegal. “Under such circumstances, it was impossible for me to travel,” he reiterated.
Kinteh disclosed to the Inquiry Panel that he subsequently gave instructions to the then Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mamour Jobe, to verify the veracity of the information they received from a sister agency, stressing why the Intel report is not coming from the police
“After they checked, they confirmed that the information was true,” he said. “This was followed by a massive deployment of intelligence officers to gather information on the ground. The subsequent reports about the other deaths came from them.”
Former Police Chief when it was established that lives were lost, he ordered the arrest of the five police officers who were armed during the confrontation with the youths. He confirmed their their commander Baboucarr Cham was also arrested.
The six police officers are standing trial as they denied the murder charges leveled against them.
“The preliminary investigation revealed that virtually all of them fired live ammunition on protesters. There was only one gun that remained intact,” he said.
When asked by investigators on the reasons that forced him to throw the towel in the midst of mounting challenges, Kinteh said “I’ve tendered my resignation because I am interested in the peace and quiet of this country, which is greater than any of us.”
Kinteh further stated that his greatest motivation was to see his personnel being accused for not handling the situation very well to the extent there was loss of lives. “I believe I should just step aside and allow the healing process to take its course,” he said.
Led by Lawyer Emmanuel Daniel Joof, the Inquiry Panel has been mandated to conduct their investigation within one month. Investigators have a one-month extension if they fail to submit their report on time.
Landing Kinteh also seized the opportunity to remind the Inquiry Panel about the mediation efforts he mounted in order to prevent the crisis from deteriorating.
He said he spearheaded a meeting on 23rd May 2018 with all stakeholders, bringing together Village Development Committee (VDC) members, the Alkalo of Faraba Banta, the Council of Elders and Ansumana Marenah, commonly known as Julakay, flanked with two of his senior workers.
“This was held at Police Headquarters in Banjul, and gov’t officials were in attendance.”
Kinteh said a resolution was reached for sand mining activities to continue, and Julakay Entreprise was ordered to restore the environment nearer to what it was. But he was quick to add that some of the villagers displayed reluctance with the way they were talking…