A former officer in the Presidential Guard of the former Yahya Jammeh administration has testified that he was involved in the killing in 2005 of about 50 migrants on the orders of the former president.
Gambian investigators had earlier accused ex-president Jammeh of being behind the killing of the migrants who he feared were mercenaries sent to overthrow him.
The victims included 44 Ghanaians, 10 Nigerians, two Senegalese, three Ivoirians and one Togolese. Their bodies were dumped down a well in neighbouring Senegal, according to Reuters.
Testifying on Tuesday at the public hearing before a truth commission in The Gambia, Omar Jallow, the former officer of the Presidential Guard, said the migrants were arrested on a beach while trying to get to Europe.
“Yahya Jammeh ordered for the execution of the foreign nationals,” he said.
Jallow said the migrants were taken to a firing range where the soldiers were told by their commanding officer, Lieutenant Solo Bojang, that the migrants should be killed.
“Solo said these people were mercenaries and he told us that the order from the former head of State (Yahya Jammeh) was to fire at them,” Jallow told the commission, adding that the bodies were thrown in a well.
“I was given 100 dollars by one of them who pleaded to me to allow him say his last prayers, but before he completely knelt down (another soldier) fired at him. I used the 100 dollars,” Jallow was quoted by the AFP.
Nearly two years after the exile of Jammeh, the West African country has sworn in an 11-member truth, reconciliation and reparations commission that will unravel the abuses perpetrated by the dictator.
Jammeh is accused of summary executions, disappearances, torture, rape and other crimes during his 22-year rule and the victims are seeking some closure, justice and possible prosecution of those responsible, including the former president who flew into exile in Equatorial Guinea in early 2017.
Jallow’s testimony comes a day after another army officer admitted being involved in the killing of journalist Deyda Hydara in 2004 on what he claimed were orders from former President Jammeh.
Lieutenant Malick Jatta’s testimony is currently the only known confession or evidence tying the former president to the murder of the journalist, Hydara, who was editor and co-founder of the independent newspaper The Point.
Hydara, who was then a critic of the Jammeh administration, was killed by unidentified gunmen in his car on the outskirts of the capital, Banjul, in December 2004.
“We opened fire, myself, Alieu Jen and Sana Manjang,” Lieutenant Jatta testified Monday at the public hearing before a truth commission in The Gambia, naming two other soldiers in the journalist’s killing.
“Our commander, Captain Tumbul Tamba was communicating to the former president, Yahya Jammeh, on the phone during the operation. He saying to him, ‘Yes Sir, Your Excellency,'” he said.
Jatta added that one of the cars used during Hydara’s killing was picked up from Jammeh’s residence in the town of Kanifing. He and the other soldiers would subsequently ambush the journalist and drive off after shooting him dead.
Jatta said his commanding officer later paid him $1,000 after the incident.
“I would be certain that it was from the former president. Tumbul had no source of gathering dollars,” he told the commission.
At the time, Jatta said they did not know the name of the victim, but would only learn the following that it was Hydara, who also worked for Agence France-Presse and Reporters Without Borders.
The leader of the mission, Captain Tamba, died several years ago while the other two soldiers mentioned in the killing are yet to be found for comments.
Jatta also admitted to involvement in the killings of the about 50 migrants.
Jammeh had previously denied being involved in the journalist’s killing, saying that Hydara’s love life caused his murder. But the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a statement on Monday, said Jammeh should be extradited to The Gambia to stand trial for the murder.
“For 15 years, CPJ has called on Gambian authorities to do everything in their power to ensure those who carried out Deyda Hydara’s killing are brought to justice,” Angela Quintal, the CPJ’s Africa Programme coordinator said.
Ruling Gambia for over two decades, Jammeh initially refused to relinquish power after losing the December 2016 elections to current president Adama Barrow.
It took a military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), threats from the international community, visits by about half a dozen heads of state and an immunity deal for him and his family before he agreed to leave for exile to Equatorial Guinea on the invitation of Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has been President since 1979.
The United States recently banned Jammeh and his family from ever setting foot in the country. The announcement of the ban, which was made by the U.S. Department of State, was as a result of his heavy involvement in corruption and human rights violations while he was in power.