By Lamin Cham
A year after hearing and documenting harrowing tales of mass murders and secret burials mainly in forests in the Fonis, the truth commission conducted an investigative tour of the sites believed to be the locations for the mass graves.
Led by Chairman Lamin Sise and including commissioners, counsel, investigators and representatives of victims, the tour party was guided by Malick Jatta and Omar ‘Oya’ Jallow, two members of the Junglers hit squad who confessed to have witnessed or participated in dozens of killings and mass burials in wells and unmarked graves.
The first place of call was at the NIA compound in Tanji. An otherwise serene beautiful compound regularly blasted with cold breeze from the nearby Atlantic Ocean, the place is now perhaps better known as the site of the secret grave of a famous martyr, Solo Sandeng.
The grave was since exhumed and Mr Sandeng’s remains taken for forensic examination. Lead investigator and forensic expert, Thomas Gomez, told the visitors how the body was exhumed. The team was also shown the twin cells, one of which was used to detain 2006 coup leader, Ndure Cham before he was excuted.
The tour party then moved to Santang-ba Forest near Foni Kansala. The northern tip of this vast forest borders the River Gambia tributaries where lakes are formed around the swamps. It was on this swampy land in 2005 that one of the survivors of the Ghanaian migrants massacre was taken by a group of Junglers (among them Omar ‘Oya’ Jallow) shot, and abandoned.
”The man showed up at a village called Bambara and when the reports about him reached the authorities, an order was given for him to be killed. It was at this place that he was given a single shot and his body abandoned,” one investigator told The Standard at the site.
The investigative party got more than they bargained for in the swamps as two vehicles got stuck delaying the trip for about an hour.
Before leaving the forest, the team scouted for the possible location of the grave of former soldier Tumani Jallow and businessman Abdou Gaye who according to Omar ‘Oya’ Jallow were buried there at night in a hurry in an operation led by fugitive senior Jungler Sana Manjang.
At Tintiba Firing Range, in the outskirts of Kanfenda in Foni Kansala, the tour party inspected the graves in which the bodies of the 30 December 2014 State House attackers, Lamin Sanneh and others, were buried. This spot was located by Jallow back in 2018 when the bodies were exhumed and properly buried.
“It was very easy to recognise the grave because I remember when we came to bury them I had burnt a Tarpaulin right by the grave and when we came here with the investigators three years ago I found the burnt Tarpaulin right there,” Jallow told The Standard at the site.
“At least we now have an idea of the area the people who were killed were buried even though it would be a miracle for the Junglers to remember the exact spot after so many years,” a victim’s representative remarked before the party left for Kanilai, home of the former president, Yahya Jammeh.
Led by former Jungler Malick Jatta, the team combed a vast fenced land at Bunowor believed to be the site where former NIA director general Daba Marenah and several others were buried.
An already excavated area by investigators on previous visit in Kanilai in the search for the possible remains of Gambian-Americans Alhagie Mamut Ceesay and Ebou Jobe was also visited as well as the crocodile pool where rumours had it that murdered victims were thrown to feed the now 250 crocodiles. A wildlife ranger who worked at the ponds for over ten years however said the crocodiles are fed fish and he was not aware of a time when a human corpse was fed to the semiaquatic reptiles.
The tour wrapped up with a visit to Jammeh’s compound and living quarters. The once heavily fortified mansion is now largely quiet and abandoned. Except for the sounds of squeaking peacocks and other birds, the only other noise comes from worshippers in the small mosque located in the yard. His house is full of ornaments and expensive décor with most items turned upside down and gathering dust. The front of the house is covered with a well decorated big hall used as a garage for his many luxurious cars. The garage is air-conditioned with a big gate leading to the door of his house enabling him to drive to his door step.
The team then left Kanilai and called off the day.
“All along, the commissioners and counsel had only a mental picture of the areas described by witnesses. But this visit now accorded them a good knowledge of how things actually happened and the extent to which the Jammeh regime had gone to cover up its violations,” TRRC media consultant Essa Jallow told The Standard.