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Kafuta VDC gives painful details on state of arrested Gambian youths

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By Alagie Manneh

Arrested Gambian youths in Senegal are being detained in a pitiful and inhumane conditions, according to the chairman of Kafuta Tumbung Village Development Committee, Dembo Kujabi.

At least 24 of youths were arrested about a fortnight ago in Kafuta Tumbung village in Kombo East which borders the restive region of Casamance. The youths, most of them from Tanji, have now been moved to a military forest in Bigñona and are suffering from hunger, said Mr Kujabi.

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“The issue of food is a big problem for them. They are in a state of distress. They also need clothing because since their arrests they have been wearing the same clothes which is unhygienic,” he lamented.

Kujabi said he had tried in vain yesterday to see the boys, but couldn’t get through due to the heightened tension occasioned by the civil disturbances in Senegal.

“There was a lot of people on strike there, so I had to hand over money to a relative for him to take it to the boys,” he said, adding that two of the detainees are his sons.

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Last week, Cadet ASP Binta Njie-Jatta told The Standard that the boys were arrested within “a rebel zone in Senegal currently under strict restrictions in respect to firewood fetching, timber and cannabis smuggling”.

But Mr Kujabi said the Gambians were there to look for the barks of a mahogany tree locally referred to as faara for an initiation ceremony.

“Even within the border of The Gambia, a dead wood is a dead wood, and that was what my boys and I went to look for. That should never be a problem in my opinion.”

He said the matter has been reported to and discussed with the headchief of the area who promised to talk to the police commissioner on the matter but nothing came out of the talks.  

“The government should be wiping our tears. As a civilian, they are our last resort. Only the government can help address the current situation. So, I urge the government to do more and work to secure the release of the boys,” he said.

“We are in a state of distress and anxiety,” said Sarjo Jaiteh, wife of the VDC chair. “Since they have been moved from Ziguinchor to Bigñona, we are yet to see them. We have tried in vain. We are worried because we know that they are not being properly fed.”

Explaining the arrests, Mr Kujabi recounted: “I was with my wife and two of my sons when we met a group of boys in a forest in the Casamance, and they told us that they were from Tanji looking for faara. I too was there to search for firewood. It was then that suddenly the soldiers came out of nowhere and surrounded us and asked what we were doing there. After I had explained, one of them asked me, ‘Don’t you have firewood in Kafuta?’ But I told him we have looked for firewood in the forest since childhood. They then instructed us to stop the activities and escorted us to an area where the Tanji youths were being kept because we weren’t all arrested together. Afterwards, they released my wife and I, but refused to release my sons. Then they seized my motorbike, which is still with them.”    

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