Former army captain, Amadou Suwareh, the second witness to testify in the ongoing TRRC hearing into the July 1994 coup, said Jammeh was strong headed and had problems with discipline during his army days.

Suwareh said he was an instructor at the Army Training School where he met Lt Yahya Jammeh and later became his company clerk at the Barracks.

Echoing the testimony of the the first witness, Ebrima Chongan, Suwareh said the security situation in the days preceding the coup was tensed and there were several rumours of a coup and mutiny by disgruntled soldiers over pay and working conditions.

He said the favourable treatment of the Nigerian army contingent by the Jawara government caused resentment and some junior officers of The Gambia National Army where hellbent on taking actions to rectify their poor working conditions.

Suwareh said on 21st July 1994, the Tactical Support Group (TSG) was tasked with providing security at the airport and he was informed by his commander, Turo Janneh, about a rumoured coup by some disgruntled officers of the army but did not mention names.

“We secured the airport and some major roads. The Nigerian soldiers at the airport stripped the guard of honour of live ammunition and a contingent of military police led by Lt. Yahya Jammeh were disarmed. The soldiers felt they were humiliated at the airport by the Nigerian soldiers”.

He said former President Jawara arrived at the airport and inspected the guard of honour and was safely escorted to State House without an incident.

Suwareh said he later learned that Jammeh and his colleagues had a meeting that night to discuss their planned coup.

Day of the coup

Suwareh said he was deployed at Denton Bridge in the morning of the coup and ordered by his commander, Turo Janneh to close the bridge to all traffic. His order was to shoot-at-sight any soldier who attempted to force his way through the security cordon that was established at the bridge.

He said he was with a group of soldiers known as Delta Company and another platoon commanded by Lt Benny Minteh and the late Lt Lamin Jarjue.

Suwareh revealed that he altered the shoot-at-sight order given to him by three of his superior (then IGP Pa Sallah Jagne, AIG Chongan and Turo Janneh, Commander of the TSG) when he briefed the lower ranking soldiers in his command at the bridge.

“I told them bluntly ‘I’m between you and God. My life depends on you and your lives depend on me. You received orders at the barracks to shoot-at-sight. My last order here is that you don’t shoot anybody unless I gave you the orders to shoot”.

He said Denton Bridge was sealed and no one was allowed to cross the bridge. There was a gridlock of cars with commuters stuck at the bridge.

” At around 9am, I saw a group of soldiers (between 30 and 40 soldiers) coming towards the bridge in tactical formation after been dropped off GPTC buses. They were ready for battle. They had in their possessions heavy weapons like bazookas, RPGs, GPMGs, LMGs, AK47s and rolls of ammunitions.

“I met the group of soldiers and I was surprised that it was being commanded by Corporal Tamba. It was unusual for a corporal to lead such a large group of soldiers. I asked him where they were heading to? He replied that ‘they were going on a mission in Banjul which he refused to disclose to me and that their officers were on their way”.

Suwareh said he refused to allow Corporal Tamba’s group to cross the bridge adding that Tamba looked haggard and was drunk.

“I created a buffer zone between my men and Corporal Tamba’s men about 100 metres apart”. After an hour of standoff, Suwareh said he saw more soldiers alighting from GPTC buses to join Corporal Tamba’s units.

“Corporal Tamba raised a white handkerchief signaling he wanted to talk to me which I obliged and we met at the middle of the buffer zone”.

He said Tamba told him that his father (Yahya Jammeh used to call Capt Suwareh his son) wanted to talk to him.

“Later Lt Yahya Jammeh, 2nd Lt Edward Singhateh and Captain Momodou Sonko (alias Kankurang) arrived at the buffer zone and I went to meet them. Yahya started ranting about the corruption in the PPP government and their plan to replace it with a better civilian government. Edward was softer in his speech”.

Suwareh revealed the that he was promised a position as a cabinet minister if he joined the coup.

He recalled smelling alcohol on both Jammeh and Singhateh.

When Counsel Essa Faal asked him whether he suspected that Jammeh was drunk, Suwareh replied “I know that Yahya Jammeh drinks alcohol and it was not a secret”.

Suwareh confessed that he assessed the situation and concluded that he could not stop Jammeh and his fellow mutineers from marching to Banjul.

“They were more armed and better prepared than us. The logic is simple: you can’t ask police officers to stop a marching army. The police are not equipped to fight an army”.

He said Jammeh and some of his soldiers were so drunk that if he had tried to stop them, there would have been carnage adding that he negotiated with them.

“I told my men who had taken positions to stand down and fraternised with their colleagues. They turned their berets (which were black) back to green”.

When Counsel Faal asked him what happened after that, Suwareh said his men joined the ranks of Jammeh’s mutineers.

“I advised them to move slowly and tactically to Banjul, while I went ahead of them to clear the ambushes on the way. I was out to save lives and properties”.

Suwareh said on his way to Banjul, he met with ASP Edward Sambou whom he told that they could not stop Yahya Jammeh and his mutineers. They were driven to Banjul on a truck by Gumbo Lowe. He said Captain Samsudeen Sarr joined them along the way.

Suwareh said when he arrived in Banjul, he went to the Marine Unit to meet Navy commander Antouman Saho and requested for heavy weapons but was turned down.

When Counsel Essa Faal asked him what he needed the heavy weapons for?

Suwareh replied “for a stand off”.

Below is how the exchange between Counsel Faal and Captain Suwareh went during the rest of the testimony:

Counsel Essa Faal: what stand off?

Suwareh: Stand off with Yahya’s group

Counsel Essa Faal: remember this is no longer Yahya’s group

Suwareh: Yes my group

Counsel Essa Faal: so you were looking for a weapon to attack your own group

Suwareh: Yes

Counsel Essa Faal: Did you get any?

Suwareh: No sir?

Counsel Essa Faal: what did you do next?

Suwareh: what I did next was the last hope. I went to the police headquarters. The IG was not there but I met AIG Chongan. I told him clearly that things are over. We cannot stand them and already my men have joined them.

Counsel Essa Faal: what did Chongan do?

Suwareh: he thought it was a joke. He said we should fight them but he hasn’t seen the soldiers. I told him you cannot. We don’t have anymore friendly forces to fight for you.

Counsel Essa Faal: did you tell Chongan at that stage that you’ve become part of Jammeh’s group and that you were in fact commander of that group?

Suwareh: I told him clearly that I was with them and my men were them and I won’t leave them so I was going back to them.

Counsel Essa Faal: you don’t think under normal circumstances, he should have you arrested

Suwareh: yes he should have but the situation was so tense and there was no manpower. He listened to me.

Counsel Essa Faal: would you be surprised that Mr Chongan has no recollection of this? In fact, in his testimony he said he was shocked to see you at the police headquarters and he did not have any communication with you other than to tell you to join him and head back to the bridge.

Suwareh: it’s contradictory but I can fully remember from his office I went downstairs to RSM Ceesay and explained to him the situation.

Counsel Essa Faal: Did Mr Chongan leave you behind at the police headquarters?

Suwareh: no. We went together in his vehicle, a pajero to an ambushed that he set at Radio Syd.

Counsel Essa Faal: what were you going to do?

Suwareh: I was trying to convince him to abandon the ambush

Counsel Essa Faal: so you were saying on your way from police headquarters to Radio Syd, you were trying to convince AIG Chongan to not resist the coup?

Suwareh: Yes

Counsel Essa Faal: but would it surprise you that Mr Chongan has no recollection of this particular conversation?

Suwareh: I won’t be surprised because it was 23 years ago

Counsel Essa Faal: At radio Syd you dropped off. Did you have any more conversation with Mr Chongan?

Suwareh: I told him I was going to see my men and took command. I saw Jammeh and the other soldiers driving towards us from Mile Two in a vehicle (Peugeot 504).

Counsel Essa Faal: where was Chongan?

Suwareh: he was organising his ambush

Counsel Essa Faal: was he still working on his ambush and trying to resist the coup ?

Suwareh: Yes

Counsel Faal: so you went back to the group with Yahya to reclaim command of the group

Suwareh: Yes

Counsel Faal: Sir, you were leading the coup

Suwareh: Yes

Counsel Essa Faal: what else did you do?

Suwareh: I asked them to move 150 metres behind me on tactical formation

After the success of the coup Suwareh said he was appointed as Commissioner of North Bank Division.

Asked whether he considered his appointment as Commissioner as a reward for his role during the coup, Suwareh replied in the negative.

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