“Let me say good afternoon to you and your listeners. An incident happened in Kanilai yesterday and it is true. It is a fact. It is an unfortunate incident. We wish it did not happen at all because there was no reason for such misunderstanding to even occur in the first place. But be as it may; it has occurred. We condemn it. We hope that the way forward…. these issues may not come up again,” Lieutenant Commander Andy La-Anyane, spokesman for the ECOMIG troops stationed in the Gambia remarked during an Exclusive Interview with Freedom Radio Gambia, on Friday.
“The Gambia armed forces have deployed troops around the Kanilai area; to be specific close to the residence of the former President Yahya Jammeh. We also have troops in Buwiam, which is also close to Kanilai. And these troops have oversight responsibility over Kanilai, and the general area. So, I think the Gambian armed forces are having an exercise or an operation in that general area and they did not want any interference from any other person. And so, our troops, were supposed to have cleared this with the Gambian armed forces first before even going there. And that’s what happened. We are trying to find the reasons for their coming. That was what caused the misunderstanding. But after it was cleared. So, everything has moved on smoothly. There is no other problem happening there,” he added.
The Ghanaian born ECOMIG spokesman categorically denied reports of a shootout in Kanilai. He explains what transpired: “ I can say there was no exchange of fire between the two groups. Though I can say investigation is still ongoing; there was a warning shot or accidental discharge which hits the ground; I think it hits one or two soldiers. But these are being investigated. But I can say categorically that there was no exchange of fire between the two groups. No.”
ECOMIG, he said, is not going accept, or take responsibility for the incident. “No, we will not. Like, I said investigation is still ongoing. The security situation has been brought back to normal. Every operation is ongoing. We will not accept responsibility for whatever. It was just a misunderstanding between the troops. There was no serious issue. And these two groups, or two armed forces personnel, who have been operating together. So, if something of a sort happens, it would be trashed out. There is no serious issue there. No,” said Lieutenant Commander Andy La-Anyane. Below is the full text of our interview with Mr. La-Anyane. Please read on.
What can you tell us about the incident, which occurred in Kanilai on Thursday?
Let me say good afternoon to you and your listeners. An incident happened in Kanilai yesterday and it is true. It is a fact. It is an unfortunate incident. We wish it did not happen at all because there was no reason for such misunderstanding to even occur in the first place. But be as it may; it has occurred. We condemn it. We hope that the way forward…. these issues may not come up again.
What really occasioned the incident? We receive mixed reports here. Some are saying that ECOMIG forces trespassed Kanilai; there was no formal communication between the ECOMIG forces and the forces on the on the ground; the Gambian forces.
Let me first say that ECOMIG, has a very, very good working relationship with the Gambia armed forces. In fact, we have been working with them since we arrived in the Gambia. We have some officers attached from the Gambia armed forces to the ECOMIG forces. We conduct day and night patrols with the Gambian armed forces together. We operate together. We have very cordial relations.
And as I said earlier, in the beginning of this interview, I mentioned that there was some miscommunication somewhere. The Gambia armed forces have deployed troops around the Kanilai area; to be specific close to the residence of the former President Yahya Jammeh. We also have troops in Buwiam, which is also close to Kanilai. And these troops have oversight responsibility over Kanilai, and the general area. So, I think the Gambian armed forces are having an exercise or an operation in that general area and they did not want any interference from any other person. And so, our troops, were supposed to have cleared this with the Gambian armed forces first before even going there. And that’s what happened. We are trying to find the reasons for their coming. That was what caused the misunderstanding. But after it was cleared. So, everything has moved on smoothly. There is no other problem happening there.
In your view, Lieutenant Commander Andy, is it appropriate for your forces to use excessive force to enter Kanilai?
Never. There is no way that our troops will use excessive force, especially when the Gambian armed forces personnel are operating within the same general area. It will never happen. We are professionals. We will not use any excessive force. I want to repeat: That we have a good working relation with the Gambian armed forces personnel. So once our troops should come into contact with the Gambian armed forces personnel; no matter the incident is, there will never be the use of excessive force.
What were your troops doing in Kanilai? Just be specific. What were they doing there?
As I told you, we have troop deployed in Bwiam. And we have oversight responsibility in Kanilai and its general area. And let me, if you allow, I want to emphasize that our mandate here from ECOWAS, has a part ..to have surveillance over that general area. So, periodically, we send out patrols to these areas. And it is just one of these things that caused the misunderstanding. Apart from that, everything has been calm in that general area until yesterday, when this brief and unnecessary disruption that came up, but it has been sorted out and everything is fine.
And who is to be blamed for the shootout?
There was no shootout. I think I have read somewhere, or I heard somewhere and was said there was exchange of fire. It never happened. There was no exchange of fire between the Gambian armed forces troops and the ECOMIG troops. It never happened.
So, you want to categorically deny that there was no shootout in Kanilai?
I can say there was no exchange of fire between the two groups. Though I can say investigation is still ongoing; there was a warning shot or accidental discharge which hits the ground; I think it hits one or two soldiers. But these are being investigated. But I can say categorically that there was no exchange of fire between the two groups. No.
ECOMIG should take responsibility for the injuries which occurred in Kanilai. I am putting it to you that ECOMIG should accept responsibility. You should assume responsibility for the injuries, right?
No, we will not. Like, I said investigation is still ongoing. The security situation has been brought back to normal. Every operation is ongoing. We will not accept responsibility for whatever. It was just a misunderstanding between the troops. There was no serious issue. And these two groups, or two armed forces personnel, who have been operating together. So, if something of a sort happens, it would be trashed out. There is no serious issue there. No.
Fox News Cable, here in the US, is reporting that and I quote: Modou Mbye said he and his colleagues were guarding graves at the property Thursday and refused when the troops asked to enter. They then entered by force in an armored personnel carrier, firing their guns. We do not fire back as we were commanded not to.” What is your response?
Who are you attributing these quotes to?
Fox News Cable is reporting that a soldier, was interviewed and he said your men arrived in Kanilai, with an armored carrier; they open fire at them; they never fired back.
No, this cannot be truth. Like I said, we have troops, who operate in the general area; they send patrols out every day, every time. What happened yesterday, has nothing to do with sending troops on armored person carriers; shooting their way through to anywhere. No, that’s not what happen. It is far from the truth.
Why is Kanilai, not under the control of the ECOMIG forces? Why?
Kanilai first… ECOMIG forces have mandate to operate within Gambia. And so…. Kanilai is part of Gambia, right? We have troops deployed in Bwiam, which also have oversight responsibility over Kanilai. We cannot be everywhere at the same time. We have oversight responsibility over Kanilai. And periodically, they send patrols to see whatever is going on and to assure the populace that everything is okay; they can go about their normal duties without fear of any harassment or intimidation.
Is it true that former President Jammeh, doesn’t want the ECOMIG to occupy his home in Kanilai?
I don’t think I can answer this question. This may be directed to the political leaders. As far as ECOMIG is concerned, we do not have anything to do with the incident. What we are interested in is the security of the masses in the general area of Kanilai, and not specifically the residence of the former President. That one, I don’t know who has authority to go there.
Could you describe the security situation in the Foni area since your men are stationed in Bwiam? What can you tell us about the security situation in the Foni area?
Our assessment so far indicates that so far, everything is calm. The troops have been patrolling day and night. And this has brought confidence in the populace, and they are going about their duties without fear of any attack from anywhere. So, for now, I can say that the security situation within the Foni, general area is peaceful.
How many operational groups do we have in the Gambia? We received reports that the Senegalese forces are working side by side with the ECOMIG forces. Could you please educate our listeners about the mandate of your unit in Banjul, because some are saying that the Senegalese forces are in the business of trying to use the Gambian soldiers to launch an attack against the rebels along the Southern province of Casamance?
You see… have three countries forming ECOMIG. We have Nigeria; we have Ghana; and then Senegal as the lead country. Obviously, because of proximity and all that. I don’t think our mandate even allow any part of our troops to launch an attack anywhere outside the Gambia. So, wherever that information is coming from; I can say that it can never happen and it is not a fact. Senegalese troops are part of ECOMIG, and they take their instructions and directives from the mandate that has been given by ECOWAS. And this is what we are operating within. And it is very, very specific and clear. The mandate says that we should provide security to the President and his government. We should ensure that there is peace and security within Gambia, and institutions are working; then have oversight surveillance over Kanilai general area. And this is exactly what we are doing. So, there is no way that Senegal, who have troops under ECOMIG, can in broader fence under ECOWAS, would want to use the welcome they have here, to launch an attack on any other group within Gambia. It can’t happen. I don’t know where this information is coming from.
So, it is correct to say that the Gambian army command under the leadership of Masaneh Kinteh, fail to share information about your men’s presence in Kanilai? As such there was showdown between your men and the guards stationed in Kanilai.
Can you repeat your question?
Is it correct to say that the army Commander in the Gambia; the CDS Masaneh Kinteh, fails to share information about your men’s presence in Kanilai; as such there was a showdown in Kanilai.
I don’t think we should even extend this incident to the top. We been operating together at a tactical level for all this while. And if anything at all, just may be a commanding officer to a fellow commanding officer, and his counterpart, who may decide to share this information. We should not extend it, or generalize it up to the CDS’s level. These are simple issues that should not even get to that level.
So, you saying that it is premature to apportion blame on anyone?
Yes, that was what I was saying because we can’t say that the CDS, or the armed forces hierarchy of the Gambia, have failed. Personally, we have liaison officers from the Gambia armed forces, who are attached to ECOMIG. So, whatever operations we undertake everybody is aware. It is communicated at a tactical level. There is no way that we should apportion blame at the top. I think it is farfetched.
Let talk about the issue of disarmament program. Since your arrival in the Gambia, there is no report indicating that you been going out to search for arms and ammunition. Why is the ECOMIG forces not doing that?
As I mentioned, we have a clear mandate from ECOWAS, and we are operating within that mandate that has been given to us. And I, want to add that the Gambian armed forces is supposed to take control of the security of the Gambia. We are here to support; to ensure security is provided for the general Gambian citizens. So, if…. once our mandate does not allow us to go searching for arms and ammunition; I don’t know where exactly you are talking about. But if information comes that some arms and ammunitions to have been found in illegal hands, or being kept at illegal places, of course we would have interest and take the necessary actions; appropriate action.
What can you tell us about the arms movement between the State House, Fajara barracks, and Yundum? We were made to understand that the ECOMIG Command decided to evacuate the arms stored at the State House, and was moved to Fajara and Yundum. What can you tell us about this information?
Yes, we been briefed. Let me, corrected the impression that was created out there; that it was the ECOMIG force that directed that these arms should be moved. It is a fact that some ammunitions and arms are been moved from the State House. This is all geared towards having President Adama Barrow to return to the State House; to operate effectively from there. It is our understanding that the Gambian armed forces have decided to relocate these arms. And some of them are very.. that even needs to be disposed of because they are creating risk; serious risk for the President; for those who operate within the State House, and its general areas. So, these arms and ammunitions are being moved from the State House, to some of the armories within Fajara, and Yundum barracks.
Unfortunately, these armories are not even enough for these arms and ammunitions because of the quantities involved. So, even for now, extra armories would have to be provided to be able to cater for these arms and ammunitions. And those that have been found to be defective and very dangerous may later on, the Gambian armed forces, would find a way of disposing them; to create an enabling environment for peace to prevail.
What kind of arms are these?
They are weapons of different categories and ammunitions of different categories. They are yet to sort them out and then to know exactly the quantities, and what weapons, and ammunitions are involved.
So, President Barrow, doesn’t “wanna” live in a State House, where there are arms and ammunitions?
I wouldn’t say, he wouldn’t want to live in a State House, with arms and ammunition. If you are living in a house, where you have ammunitions that are defective, and old, and can easily go off. You are not only looking at the security of a President, you are looking at the security of all the staff, who are working at the State House, and even those who lived close by. And my information is that the quantities of ammunitions we are talking about are huge. And if there is anything that triggers any of them, the consequences should be very, very dire. It wouldn’t be a good story to tell.
So, these are dangerous explosives.
They are explosives that should be properly handled, and I think the Gambian armed forces have come to a conclusion that because some of them are old and defective; they are not safe to be in the State House. And would have to be relocated. And those that are old and not good; they have to be disposed of. Yes.
How about Kanilai? Have you conducted search in Kanilai to find out whether there are arms and ammunitions concealed there?
There were arms and ammunitions at Kanilai, but they have all been relocated to Yundum and Fajara armories. So, as we speak now, it is our understanding that all arms and ammunitions at Kanilai, have been moved to armories with Fajara and Yundum barracks.
And when is your mission going to end?
Well, we had a three month mandate, which would end in May, subject for renewal. We are waiting for the government of the Gambia, and ECOWAS to decide whether they think ECOMIG should continue to be here after May, or the mandate should come to an end. That’s at a strategic level that we do not have any say. Whatever decision is taken, that is what would happen.
Is it correct to say that the Senegalese forces account for the greater number of the ECOMIG forces in the Gambia?
Yes, at the moment. You know when we came in late January, our strength was very high. Like I mentioned, Senegal, is the lead country, and from day one their troops have been more than Nigeria, and Ghana. And then, there was this drawdown, where the numbers were reduced. And so, for now, Senegal, has just few more troops more than Nigeria, and Ghana.
Do you foresee any problem once the ECOMIG forces leave Gambia? Do you foresee any problem? Do you think the security on the ground can handle Gambia’s own domestic security? Do you have confidence in them?
For now, I think the CDS, and Gambian military hierarchy; high command is doing good job. They are ensuring that the armed forces become very professional. And once that’s done; that no weapons are in illegal hands, or being kept at illegal places; and everything is moving on smoothly, I think even if we should leave, the Gambian armed forces, and other security agencies within Gambia, should be able to take up from where we leave off. I have confidence that there would be peace; the peace that we are enjoining currently would continue even if ECOMIG would leave Gambia.
Why should ECOMIG open a base in Bwiam? What is so strategic or special about Bwiam?
We have troops all over. It is not only in Bwiam? So, I wouldn’t know why we want to limit or limit it to Bwiam alone. We have troops all over. When you go, and cross with the ferry to Barra, and up there. We have Ghanaian troops deployed. We have Nigerian troops. We have troops all over Gambian now.
There have been disturbances in the Foni area; political disturbances. And some supporters of the former President Yahya Jammeh got arrested by the police. Is ECOMIG executing any police functions in the Gambia? I don’t expect you do that. Some people are saying that ECOMIG has been deployed in Bwiam purposely to antagonize; probably scare the populace there. How true is that?
That’s not true. ECOMIG is deployed in those general areas to intimidate or harass anybody. What you mentioned was post Parliamentary elections disturbances. Fortunately, the security agencies within Gambian, have been doing; I think the police intervention unit have been doing the intervene. They were able to bring the situation under control. So, there is no problems. Everything is clam since Parliamentary elections were conducted.
Andy, by the way, I want to thank you, for reaching out to us. I saw your email this morning. I said, wait a minute… ECOMIG too they follow Freedom Newspaper. By the way, what are your reservations? We reported the Kanilai story, and following our reportage, you sent me an email emphasizing that it is imperative for Freedom to be calling you guys to get your own side of the story. Right?
Well, I have been reading Freedom Online since I came to Gambia. And I think it is one of the leading online newspapers. I thought that once you report news and security issues. I have read once or twice, where you indicated that you were not able to get in touch with a force Commander, or anybody from ECOMIG; from our side. So, I thought it is important to introduce myself, to the Freedom Newspaper, so that subsequently if there is any issue that you would want to know; our side of the story, or whatever we can have that rapport.
We really appreciate that Lieutenant Commander Andy. Before we let you go, do you have any message for the Gambian soldiers, who are currently serving?
Laughter. Ha, ha, ha. Well, yes, I want to encourage them to maintain to be professional, and know that we as soldiers, and soldiers everywhere are subject with and control of the civilians. We are subject to the control of the civilians. Our job, or duty, is to serve any government that is in power. We take our instructions from the Commander-in-chief, who is the president of every country. So, they should continue to be professional and look up to their commanders because their commanders have their interest at heart. And I think President Barrow, also have their interest at heart. At the appropriate time, they will know that they are serving a good cause. So, I want to encourage them not to despair. They should always know that ours as soldiers is a calling. And we called to serve our nation no matter who is put in power. We are supposed to serve the president and government of the day. And that’s what I want them to know. And they are doing that beautifully as of now. I want to encourage to continue doing that.
Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Andy, for granting us this interview. Much appreciated. Thank you.
Before you go, can I just say one thing?
For sure, For sure. Go ahead.
I want to say that ECOMIG would continue to support the Gambian armed forces. We are here as brothers. We are from sister West African countries. We are not here with any motive apart from being here to support our sister nation the Gambia to succeed. And that’s what we intend to do. So, every Gambian, when you come in contact with ECOMIG troops, know that they are your brothers and they are here to assist and support. We are not here to attack anybody, or to intimidate anybody. So, I once again, want to thank you for this opportunity; we will always be there for any clarification or information.
Transcribed By Pa Nderry M’Bai