By Pap Saine
BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambian President Adama Barrow has replaced the head of the military, a pillar of his predecessor Yahya Jammeh’s repressive government, and dismissed a number of senior military officers, officials said on Monday.
The director of the prisons system was also arrested, as were nine men suspected of being members of Jammeh’s alleged death squads, known as the Jungulars.
The moves were the latest in a series of arrests and personnel changes under Barrow, who is seeking to assert control following the end of Jammeh’s 22-year rule. The former president fled into exile last month after refusing to accept his election defeat.
Jammeh was himself an army officer, seizing power in a coup in 1994, and he leaned heavily on the military to bolster his grip on the country, a popular destination with European tourists.
General Ousman Badjie, the defense chief of staff, was removed along with 10 other senior officers, including the directors of operations and intelligence, army spokesman Lieutenant Kemo Kanuteh said.
Badjie’s loyalty appeared to vacillate between Jammeh and Barrow in the wake of the Dec. 1 election.
He finally publicly recognized Barrow as commander-in-chief last month as a regional intervention force closed in on the capital Banjul to remove Jammeh, stating he would welcome the force “with flowers and make them a cup of tea”.
Badjie will be replaced by Barrow’s military advisor Massaneh Kinteh, who was also a defense chief of staff under Jammeh.
About 20 army officers, including those suspected of involvement in a failed 2014 coup against Jammeh, were reinstated, Kanuteh said.
Since assuming office with the support of regional neighbors, Barrow has been quick to follow through on promises to end years of stifling limits on individual freedoms and rights.
While some have pointed to the potential risks of attacking entrenched figures in the intelligence and security apparatus, the president has in recent days moved to satisfy popular calls for justice.
David Colley, the director of the prison system, who was sacked over the weekend, was arrested late on Monday, police public relations officer Foday Conta said.
Gambia’s prisons and jails, including the notorious Mile 2 Central Prison in Banjul, were where human rights groups say Jammeh’s perceived opponents were tortured and in some cases died. Another former prisons director was arrested last month.
Conta said four suspected Jungulars, who Jammeh’s opponents accuse of murder and forced disappearances of opposition figures, were being held by the police. Another five had been arrested by the military police, he said.
Jammeh’s head of the National Intelligence Agency and several others were charged with the murder of an opposition youth leader last week.
(Additional reporting by Lamin Jahateh; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Angus MacSwan and James Dalgleish)