Gambia charges 12 soldiers over failed plot to topple new leader

A dozen soldiers have been dragged to court in a military barracks outside the Gambia’s capital for their role in a failed attempt to tumble the regime of the country’s new leader, Adama Barrow.

They were arrested since July following the leaking of an intelligence brief that showed forces loyal to ex-President Yahya Jammeh remain in contact with some senior officials that are attempting to make the small nation ungovernable.

They are facing at least nine charges including treason, concealment of treason, conspiracy and mutiny. The soldiers could face up to life in jail or death if convicted.

Most of the soldiers facing the court-martial were close to the West African nation’s former President Jammeh, including two of the ex-ruler’s relatives.

They are alleged to be part of a WhatsApp chat group where they engaged in mutinous acts, defamatory, scandalous and unethical misconduct. They are also accused of making threats to the life of President Adama Barrow, who defeated Jammeh in the elections last year.

President Barrow is protected by the paramilitary police and West African forces, a change that placed the soldiers who were part of the elite presidential guard in the background.

Barrow has rolled out reforms in the army, disbanding the presidential guard and reinstating former coup plotters that attempted to oust Jammeh.

It has left some residual anger among some who are trying to protect their high-ranking positions and influence that Jammeh had given them.

President Barrow is purging the army of Jammeh’s loyalists, most of them said to have been corruptly recruited to give the former authoritarian ruler a firm grip on power.

Army Chief Lt. Gen. Masanneh Kinteh has made changes in the West African nation’s military amid the growing concerns of an external armed opposition to the country’s unity government.

A handful of soldiers were dismissed, including a Senegalese rebel leader’s son, and the military top rank was reshuffled at least twice in the last 11 months as reports of espionage and plotting to assassinate Barrow become rife.

Human rights activists had decried the prolonged detention of the soldiers, estimated to be at least 23 without trial but Gen. Kinteh said they are being detained under military law and there was enough justification for their holding while the “rigorous investigation” was ongoing.

The Gambia also continues to detain another set of soldiers, mostly from a special force accusing them of human rights abuses. Members of the para-military hit squad called the Jungulars carried out assassinations, torture and kidnappings for the ex-President Jammeh.

Jammeh is now in exile in Equatorial Guinea and President Adama Barrow is on an all-out advance to take control of the Gambia’s military, which has been filled with Jammeh’s loyalists.

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