Gambia arrests suspected coup plotters | Africa | DW | 02.01.2015
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Africa

Gambia arrests suspected coup plotters

Authorities in Gambia have arrested dozens of military personnel and civilians suspected of taking part in a failed coup attempt this week. The suspects are being held in four separate locations near the capital Banjul.

"There have been massive arrests in Banjul and there's a heavy security presence in the capital Banjul and around the presidential palace," a Gambian journalist told DW. He spoke to DW on condition of anonymity and confirmed that both serving and former military personnel had been arrested and that security had been vamped up in the capital Banjul. He however said that life in the city was back to normal on Friday (02.01.2015).

Reports of the attempted coup emerged on Tuesday (30.12.2014), when armed individuals attacked the presidential palace. Forces loyal to Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh, reportedly killed three of the attackers, including an army deserter.

Four of the officers suspected of participating in the attempted coup fled the country and turned themselves over to military authorities in Guinea-Bissau. Human rights groups like the International Refugee Rights Intiative (RADDHO) appealed to authorities in the neighboring countries to not turn those who fled over to the Gambian government.

Gilles Yabi, a researcher based in Dakar, warned that the attempted coup could result in the wider repression citizens in Guinea-Bissau. "There are fears the regime could take advantage of the situation by blaming people who had nothing to do with it."

Map showing Gambia

Yahya Jammeh has with an iron fist ruled Gambia for 20 years

'Foreign governments responsible'

In a televised New Year's address, Gambia's President Jammeh was quick to blame foreign governments and dissidents for the assault on the presidential palace. "It is an attack by dissidents based in the US, Germany and UK," Jammeh said in the address Wednesday, denying it was an attempt to unseat him. "This was not a coup. This was an attack by a terrorist group."

Jammeh provided no concrete evidence to prove that foreign governments and the said dissidents were responsible for the failed coup. He however insisted that the armed forces "are very loyal" and that only former soldiers had taken part in the attack. "No force can take this place and nobody can destabilize this country," he said. "Anybody who plans to attack this country, be ready, because you are going to die."

The 49-year-old, who seized power in a 1994 coup that ousted Gambia's founding leader Sir Dawda Jawara, has come under fire for serious human rights abuses, including repression of the media and the disappearance of rivals. He claims to have several coup plots in the past.

A street in the capital Banjul

Business has returned to normal after armed men attacked the presidential palace on Tuesday

Western governments deny involvement

In an attempt to counter the accusations by Jammeh, the United States on Thursday denied any involvement in the coup attempt, adding that it "strongly condemns any attempt to seize power through extra-constitutional means".

"We continue to call on the government of Gambia to respect human rights and democratic values in the country," an official from the US State Department said.

There has been no reaction or official statement from the German government. Neighboring Senegal has also "strongly" condemned the attack. UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for a probe into the attempted coup and urged the government and security forces in Banjul to "act in full respect of human rights".

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