13 June 2019

Gambia: Ex-Member of 'UDP Democracy Truck' Admits Damaging Vehicle

While giving testimony before the TRRC, Omar Darboe of the defunct 'UDP democracy truck' admitted damaging a truck in Farafenni during the 1996 presidential elections.

Darboe on Wednesday, 12th June 2019 appeared as the 3rd witness of the 5th session of the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).

The 45-year-old witness told the TRRC that in 1994, he wasn't active in politics and he was not having a voter's card, adding that in 1996, he involved himself in active politics by joining the UDP.

How did you join the UDP? Counsel Mariama Singhateh asked.

"I joined the UDP because I felt that as a citizen, I should use this opportunity to tour the whole country and familiarize myself with the places. I joined the UDP out of curiosity in order to know my country so I capitalized on the campaign to know my country," he said.

He said he was in the truck dubbed 'democracy' which was always the last vehicle of the UDP campaign entourage.

He said they were attacked by people while on campaign in Foni, Jarra Karantaba, Essau, Sankulay Kunda crossing point, Farafenni, among other places. He emphasized that in no circumstance did the 'democracy truck' have weapons including stones intended to be used for in case of attack or emergency. He added that their party leaders would always advise them not to involve themselves in a fight.

He said there were certain times in their tour when the PIU under the command of Captain Suwareh provided them with escorts.

He said in the Foni attack, the UDP convoy did not retaliate, instead they patiently passed them.

"In Foni, I did not see any injuries on our people," the witness said.

He said in Jarra Karantaba, some people were injured and the fight happened in the presence of Baba Jobe. He said the PIU personnel were not present at the Jarra Karantaba incident.

He detailed that at the Sankulay Kunda crossing point, they were attacked by people wearing APRC t-shirts who were provoking them and pelted stones at them. He said this incident happened in the presence of Major Bojang, the then Commissioner of the Central River Region (CRR).

"The fight lasted for about 30 minutes and he did not see anyone with injuries," he testified.

He said the ferry was a small sized one, and by the time the incident happened, it found the UDP leadership on the other side of the river. He said the ferry due to its size used to transport a few individuals and come for the others. He said the first two trips; the ferry transported the UDP leadership leaving the militants on the other side.

"By the time we were fighting, our leadership were on the other side of the river," he said.

At Farafenni, the witness said their group was blocked by a vehicle that was put across the road to serve as a blockage for their line. He said the people in the 'democracy truck' came down and pushed the vehicle from the road. He said after pushing the vehicle from the road, the vehicle somersaulted and they left it like that.

"While pushing the vehicle, we were attacked by some boys who were stoning us. Our people retaliated and some people sustained injuries," the witness adduced.

He said the Farafenni incident happened at the Police Station.

"The police were there at the time of the incident but the situation was beyond them. I saw police officers running away from the Station. The incident happened while our leaders were gone," the witness adduced.

"Was the vehicle that you pushed put there by people or it had a breakdown?" Commissioner Sey asked the witness.

"We were not told that it had a breakdown. We made it clear that the vehicle should be moved from the way. We did not ask who put it on the road. We just went and pushed it and it somersaulted. We did not know what was going on. The 'democracy truck' people just came down and pushed the vehicle out of the road. We did not waste time (instead) we just moved the vehicle and when it somersaulted, we left it like that," the witness adduced.

He indicated that the 'democracy truck' was never armed adding that the UDP leadership would always advise them to maintain peace and not to engage themselves into troubles. He said the 'democracy truck' were mainly youths though there were a few elderlies.

He said in Kerewan, he was told that some armed soldiers came and arrested one Siaka Sonko believed to be a security guard to the UDP Secretary-General. Also, at Essau, the witness said there was a fight between them and the APRC supporters where some people sustained injuries. While on their way back to the Kombos, they were again attacked in Foni, adding that they did not react to the attack.

The Denton Bridge Incident

He said when they arrived at Westfield at about 12 am, Ousainou Darboe and others alighted to proceed to his residence in Pipeline while they (the 'democracy vehicle') moved towards Banjul. He said at Denton Bridge, they were stopped by soldiers who forcefully ordered them to come down of their truck. He narrated that their driver was severely tortured using the bot of the gun by the soldiers because he refused their instruction to drive into the river. He said after they disembarked from their truck, they were asked to undress and lie down straight on the floor. He detailed that the soldiers beat them using sticks and poured hot ashes on them before transporting them to Banjul where they were tortured in a similar line.

"We were about 100 persons in that truck. We were all tortured severely," he said.

He said he saw ex-Captain Yankuba Touray at the Denton Bridge and heard him complaining to the soldiers that they haven't done their job as required; that he should have found us dead already.

He said after Touray mentioned this, the soldiers tortured them again and splashed hot ashes on them while they were still lying flat on the ground. He said after this, they were transported from Denton Bridge to a place where soldiers wearing red berets where. At this place, the witness said Yankuba Touray who was wearing a t-shirt bearing the photo of ex-President Yahya Jammeh ordered for the soldiers to torture them.

"We were tortured severely. Some could not move without aid. I was knocked by a soldier until my teeth got stiffed but I did not lose any of my teeth," he said.

He said while at the place, a lady died from a cut across her breast from a knife. He said after some time, he and others were released by the soldiers and they walked on foot to Bakau while others were left under detention. He said in the morning, he was taken to the residence of his party leader who took him to Dr. Ceesay's clinic where he acquired treatment.

He told the Commission that the only injury he is battling with since then is a dislocated shoulder.

Omar Darboe was born in Gunjur in 1974 and he is a fisherman.

Omar Jassey, also a survivor of the Denton Bridge incident also made a similar testimony with regards to that incident.

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