News24

Coup plot confirmed in Gambia

2006-03-23 13:00

Banjul - Gambian authorities confirmed on Wednesday that they had foiled an attempt by some military officers to oust President Yahya Jammeh, who came to power nearly 12 years ago through a bloodless coup.

A statement from the presidential office said: "Five military officers have been arrested but the mastermind... colonel Ndure Cham is on the run.

"The Gambian authorities discovered on Tuesday night that a group of army officers lead by colonel Ndure Cham, chief of defence staff, were at an advanced stage in their plots to overthrow the constituted government of the Republic of The Gambia.

"All those involved are presently under custody and helping the security forces in their investigation except the leader who is still at large."

Banjul 'completely calm'

Jammeh's office said the situation was under control in the tiny west African country nearly 24 hours after Jammeh cut short his working trip to Mauritania as the news of the alleged coup plot broke. The reports said Banjul was completely calm on Wednesday.

Earlier, police and military sources had reported that Cham had been arrested, along with four captains, one major and a civilian working in the country's civil aviation office.

Meanwhile, Jammeh had promoted to the rank of a full colonel Lang Tombong Tamba and appointed him chief of staff.

Jammeh on Tuesday was seen off from Nouakchott by his Mauritanian counterpart, military junta head colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, who also came to power through a bloodless coup in August last year.

Bloodless coup

Jammeh deposed the democratically elected government of long-time president Sir Dawda Jawara, perceived as inefficient, corrupt and despotic, in an undramatic bloodless coup on July 22 1994, when he was only 29.

He led a group of young lieutenants against Jawara, who was then Africa's longest serving head of state, having ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1965.

The new military junta immediately suspended the constitution and banned political parties, before organising elections in 1996, which Jammeh won but were criticised by the international community.

In 2001 Jammeh won another election with about 53% of the vote. He was expected to seek another term in the presidential election set for October.

Charges against opposition leaders dropped

A year earlier, he had crushed a coup attempt by his own bodyguards, but overall Gambia had enjoyed comparative stability.

In February, Jammeh dropped charges against three opposition leaders arrested last year on security charges after mediation by Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo.

He said he had made the decision in line with his commitment "to peace and stability in the country".

Gambia was a thin sliver of land situated on the mouth of the River Gambia stretching inland from the Atlantic Ocean for 322km and less than 50km wide on average.