Gambia court charges soldiers for alleged coup plot

Gambian president-elect Adama Barrow is seen during an exclusive interview with Reuters in Banjul, Gambia, December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
Gambian president-elect Adama Barrow is seen during an exclusive interview with Reuters in Banjul, Gambia, December 12, 2016. REUTERS

A Gambian military court on Monday charged 10 soldiers with treason and mutiny for plotting to overthrow the country’s newly elected government in July, and two more with helping a sergeant evade arrest.

Elements of The Gambia’s armed forces are known to have maintained support for former president Yahya Jammeh following his ouster from power after 22 years in January, but detailed evidence of a rumoured coup plot is only just emerging.

The 10 soldiers “prepared or endeavoured to overthrow the democratically elected government of The Gambia by unlawful means and thereby committed an offence,” a court document seen by AFP showed.

The men were arrested in July, army officials had previously told AFP, and have been held without trial, long beyond the three-day limit of the Gambian constitution.

The two soldiers charged with lesser offences are accused of “negligent interference” and “negligent interference with lawful custody” after helping a soldier escape and not informing their superiors.

Jammeh’s iron grip on the army and the intelligence services led to the deployment of West African troops in the tiny nation in order to ensure security for President Adama Barrow, who beat him in elections in December.

A Senegalese contingent remains in place, and its commander Colonel Magatte Ndiaye said in July that rebel elements were intent on destabilising the country and working with exiled Jammeh-era top brass, though President Barrow dismissed those reports are “hugely exaggerated”.

Former president Jammeh came to power himself via a military coup in 1994, and survived several attempts to remove him with the same method during his long tenure, only to lose democratically and be forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to leave his position.

The soldiers’ case is running alongside the civilian trial of the so-called “NIA Nine” — feared former spy chief Yankuba Badjie, who ran the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA), and eight of his subordinates.

Badjie stands accused of the murder of opposition activist Solo Sandeng, whose death in custody in April 2016 sparked rare protests uniting The Gambia’s once weak opposition.

Badjie’s lawyers rejoined his defence team on Monday after failing to appear for the previous two hearings and thereby facing a threat of being found in contempt of court.