Binneh S Minteh a former Gambian Army Lieutenant give the following version of events that transpired at the Denton Bridge on July 22nd 1994 in an interview published on Allgambia.net site:
His answer to one of the questions caught my attention. I have heard a different version from someone calling himself Ebou Colly who once graced the pages of the Gambia-L with a series called Coup in the Gambia.
Here is Binneh’s version of the events in an answer to a question:
Q. WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE IN THE JULY 94 MILITARY TAKEOVER?
My role throughout was rather a mediating role to avoid bloodshed. On the sad day of July 22nd 1994, I was deployed to the Denton Bridge with some troops to barricade Members of The Gambia National Army from crossing to Banjul. Unfortunately, we were deployed with limited means to counter the insurgence. The Men under my command each had only an AK 47 rifle and two magazines of armour at their disposal. At that juncture all that any responsible commander could have done was to avoid the use of force. After a careful assessment of the situation, I took up responsibility to approach the insurgents, with the primary goal of finding out what their concerns were, so we could find an alternate solution to their concerns. Upon arrival at their location, I was halted and ask to lay my arms down and raise my hands up. Without any sense of fear, I noticed that the insurgents were lead by Yaya Jammeh and Edward Singhateh with Major Amadou Suwareh taken captive. I then asked them what their problems were, and my simple reason of approaching them was to try to avoid bloodshed, as we are all Gambians. This was what Edward Singhateh responded;” Minteh, I know you. Listen we have broken the armouries, we over ran Yundum Barracks, Fajara Barracks, we are more armed than you and we have outnumbered you. We can blow the bridge with just a grenade. If you cannot join us just withdraw your men from the bridge, because we will blow it up”. My respond to Edward was that we will not get to that point as we are all Gambians. I told him that we will not resist and will have the authorities come speak to them. Upon getting back to my men on the ground, I found MAJOR CHONGAN giving orders that we should fire at them when they try crossing and then he left the bridge. One thing I learnt as an officer is to deploy and use my men in accordance with the means available. I concluded that resisting and fighting back at that juncture was poor leadership and just sacrificing our men. I then ordered the men to withdraw from the bridge and follow me to the Inspector General’s office.
Upon arrival, at the Inspector General Pa Sallah Jange’s office, the situation was explained to him and was urged to come down on the ground and talk to the insurgents. His respond was for us to go negotiate with them and that he was on his way. The authorities failed to take up their responsibility in facing the reality on the ground. By the time we left the Inspector General’s office, the insurgents were on Marina Parade heading to the State house. I then went straight to the main gate of state house on Marina Parade and ask the Guards who the most senior officer was on the ground. He called Lieutenant Lang Tombong Tamba for me, who told me that they were given orders to fire as well, but all of them left including President Jawara to the U.S. Naval vessel. My advice to Tamba was not to resist because there was no way they can put up any kind of resistance, as it will just turn fatal and bloody and that they can never contain the situation. I urged him to open the Gates for the insurgents and that we should only find a peaceful solution to the problem. This was how Jammeh and his men had access to the State house. Upon entering the State House, series of meetings were held with some senior officers of The Gambia National Army, but nor Major Chongan neither the Inspector General of Police were present. It was later on announced as a coup and Edward Singhateh declared that it was them Five Junior Officers who are the council members and by virtues of their seniority Yaya Jammeh was the most senior and he is the most senior and therefore the chairman. I was later on deployed to Fajara Barracks where I assumed responsibility as the Battalion 2nd in command.
But this is what Ebou Colly posted to the Gambia-L on Sunday may the 13th 2001 about the events that transpired at the same location on the same fateful day:
Back to the events of 22nd July 1994, I was on my journey from the marine unit in Banjul via Bond Road to Yundum Barracks after Major Antouman Saho would not buy my hasty tactical blueprint. It was about 10.00 am and the first sign I read to indicate that things had totally gone wrong was the eerie manner in which the Banjul-Kombo highway was virtually deserted at that time. Not a single thing was in motion on the road except my car. It was an absolute sign of trouble ahead. I was in goose pimples from head to toe not knowing what the heck was ahead. Then I arrived at Denton Bridge. There I realized why the road was so quiet. The TSG had closed the bridge in the same way they did two years ago when they successfully stopped the demonstrating ECOMOG soldiers from entering Banjul. It looked like they were in two defensive positions. A detachment had dug in under the supervision of Major Swareh (a captain at the time) at the foot of the bridge on the Kombo end facing the advancing GNA troops who were about two hundred meters away. The second detachment was positioned at what was very close to the center of the bridge, under Major Chongan’s command.
I had to park my car at the foot of the bridge on the Banjul end and ran to Major Chongan without even taking the keys or closing the door. The major was in total rage with the GNA. His words were sharp and uncompromising. He put it to me that their tolerance for the army’s misbehavior had been exhausted and that the bridge was closed with a final warning to any GNA personnel to risk being shot if anyone attempted to cross it, especially with arms. Despite his inferior weapons, I could sense that he was prepared to battle it out with the soldiers. At that moment I did not know that a short while before my arrival the major had already fired warning shots to the soldiers at the other end to show them that he meant business. Anyway I was able to reason with him to allow me to go and talk to the soldiers before any fighting was started. The men around him did not trust me. He later confessed to me that they had recommended that he allowed them to arrest me if I tried to cross the bridge. But I appealed to Major Chongan telling him the odds in winning a battle against the GNA with the light weapons they had at their disposal. My appearance, i.e. the number two office uniform I was wearing might have helped in convincing him that I was not part of anything close to the GNA coup operation. Soldiers ready for combat would usually wear battle-dressed uniforms (BDU). I was in full office uniform that day. I warned him to go back to Banjul and try to get the weapons at the marine unit. “I was there”, I told him,” but I couldn’t convince Major Saho to get them out”. Beside, they knew that I was determined to cross the bridge, come what may. When I took off with all those weapons pointed at my back, I prayed to god aloud to help me survive the crazy situation. Chongan, I later understand, immediately returned to Banjul and was able to go to the Marine Unit with the Nigerian military adviser, Kebba Ceesay, Director General then NSS and now in the same position as D.G.NIA and Lamin Kabba Bajo the commander of the presidential guard at the time. According to Chongan, Saho refused to see them when they sought to meet him. It took about a good two hundred meters or more of running before I reached the soldiers on the other side. I also learnt from them that the only thing that saved me from being shot when they saw me galloping towards them was that some soldiers recognized me, plus I was not carrying any weapon. But after Chongan’s warning shot and then suddenly they saw someone running towards them, they thought it was an assault from the TSG and had almost opened fire on me. Anyway to be very frank, I was never prepared for what I saw when the soldiers started emerging from their hideouts in the mangroves. I was shock to see officers and not ordinary soldiers as I expected. There were Captain Momodou Lamin Sonko, officer commanding “Bravo Company”, Lieutenant Yaya Jammeh officer commanding the military police unit and Second Lieutenant Edward Singhateh platoon commander “Charlie Company”.
I asked them what was going on and Captain Sonko responded, yelling at me that it was a coup operation and whether I liked it or not I must join them or die. While verbally threatening me, Sonko kept on hitting me with his 9mm pistol on my chest. I was afraid it was going to explode and kill me. 9mm pistols are taboos to me because a good chunk of the bullet that hit me in 1988 is still lodged in my thighbone. Doctors had long since given up trying to remove it and I have now learnt to live with it. They are messy and very deadly.
I was worried but I could still think straight. I told Sonko that I could not join in a coup that I couldn’t understand its head or tail. Then I slammed him with my own threat too. I told him that the American troops in Banjul, twice their size in strength having allsorts of modern weapons including amphibious tanks were waiting for them. I told them that they would all be wiped out if they tried anything stupid. There Sonko lowered his weapon for the first time and turned to look at Yaya who was carrying more “jujus” than ammunition. He also loosened up in what I thought was a marked change of heart. Both Sonko and Yaya now turned to Singhateh to hear from him. Amazingly throughout that encounter at the bridge, Yaya never said a word. But find the clown lately in his periodical state of delusion and he would tell you a lie so big about what he said or did that day that you would think that he alone toppled the government without anyone’s help. Yet everything was Singhateh. Singhateh fired back tome saying that they did not care about the Americans. Their mission was to overthrow the PPP government and if the Americans decided to interfere on the government’s side they would all die fighting them to the last man. Singhateh’s bold remark and defiant position told me an important thing-that he was actually in charge and he was not prepared to give it up. I could not reason out what was going on but I at least knew who the main person was. So I focused on him.
I told him how unnecessary it was to start a war with the Americans when all they needed to do was to go back perhaps to Radio Gambia and announce to the country that their problem was not with the Americans but the PPP government. In that case the Americans who were preparing for an exercise until they were informed that their would-be-training partners were actually bent on to assaulting them would leave the ground back to their boat. Sonko tried to yell at me again but Singhateh yell back at him to shut up. The captain obeyed instantly. That brings me to principle number two of a coup situation. EXPECT THE COMMAND STRUCTURE TO TURN UPSIDE DOWN. By all indication the second lieutenant was in charge of both the first lieutenant and the captain. It was pitiful. Singhateh started negotiating. He wanted me to go back and inform the TSG personnel to stop firing and get out of their way or else they would open fire on them. If they had opened fire on the TSG, something I later realized Singhateh to have the capability of doing, then I am afraid the country would have never recovered from that crisis. And I don’t think those sadists cared much about the preservation of the country’s peace and stability that day.
I agreed to go back. Sonko insisted that I must take along a weapon. I refused to take one. One of the reasons why I survived coming from that end without being shot at was because I was not carrying arms; therefore going back there armed would be totally suicidal. Singhateh agreed to my request to go back unarmed. It was all frightening. In the first place I could not imagine what happened at Yundum Barracks that morning. Most of the soldiers I spotted around were members of “C” company. Captain Badjie (now a colonel) was the de facto and de jure commander. Captain Sonko was the company commander of “B’ company. Yaya was the commander of the MP unit, the main company responsible for enforcing law and order within the military establishment. Yet there they were, Captain Badgie was nowhere to be seen.
The two narratives both paint a tense standoff at the Denton bridge. They are eerily similar except for the fact that the mediators are two different people. Which brings me to the gist of this post… who is Ebou Colly and why is Binneh four years from the publication of Colly’s famous postings coming out with a similar version of the events with him starring as the mediator?
Can a lieutenant over rule a major as Binneh espouses here?
“Upon getting back to my men on the ground, I found MAJOR CHONGAN giving
orders that we should fire at them when they try crossing and then he left the
bridge. One thing I learnt as an officer is to deploy and use my men in
accordance with the means available. I concluded that resisting and fighting
back at that juncture was poor leadership and just sacrificing our men.”
Colly told us a different story about who was in charge of the TSG on that day thus:
‘A detachment had dug in under the supervision of Major Swareh (a captain at the
time) at the foot of the bridge on the Kombo end facing the advancing GNA troops
who were about two hundred meters away. The second detachment was positioned at what was very close to the center of the bridge, under Major Chongan’s command.’
If you believe Binneh’s version that by the time he reached the insurgents Major swareh is in captivity, how come Colly is telling us he [swareh] was in charge of a detachment? Boy am I confused or what?
Why am I doing this? Because I believe some one is making up a story. Both of these guys claimed to be mediating. Ebou Colly’s identity has been a source of rumor on the Gambia-L during this time. I don’t know who he is. But Binneh is out there and may not be aware of this other version of events. Clarification is my motivation. If lieutenant Minteh will be kind enough to indulge me.