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I have no ambition to become a President - Lang Tombong tells court

May 21, 2010, 12:37 PM | Article By: Sainey M.K. Marenah

The former Chief of Defence Staff, Lt General Lang Tombong Tamba, yesterday told the high court that he has no ambition to become a President.

Lt. General Tamba, designated by the court as defence witness number 1 (DW1), said this as he started his defence in the ongoing treason trial involving him and seven others.

He told a packed full courtroom that he lives in Kololi and Bijilo, and is presently unemployed, since 9th October 2009.

He added that he was the former Chief of Defence Staff of the Gambia Armed Forces.

"On the 1st of August 1987, I joined the Armed Forces as a recruit. I got promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal, then officer cadet, then I got commissioned as an officer in the following ranks: Second lieutenant, Lieutenant, Captain, then Major, Lt. Colonel, then Colonel, Brigadier General, then Major General, and finally Lieutenant General," the former CDS told the court.

Adducing further, Lang Tombong Tamba told the court that "I was the first Major General, Brigadier General and Lt. General, in the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF). I served in the Gambia Armed Forces for 23 years."

DW1 told the court that he was Chief of Defence Staff for three years, six months, and that as then CDS, "my responsibilities were the administrative, operational and day-to-day running of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF)."

He added, "the Gambia Armed Forces is composed of the Army, the Navy, and the National Guards. Each of these units has a head. The Army is headed by the Chief of Army Staff, the Navy is headed by the Chief of Naval Staff and the National Guard is headed by the Chief of National Guard."

"All these service chiefs report to me as the Chief of Defence Staff and, as the CDS, I also report to the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces," Tamba told the court.

"I was appointed as the Chief of Defence Staff on the 22nd of March 2006," he added. "My appointment as the Chief of Defence Staff of the Gambia Armed Forces was made after the foiled coup attempt of the 21st of March 2006, by the former Chief of Defence Staff, Colonel Ndure Cham," Lang Tombong further said in his defence.

He adduced that "I led a team of loyal officers and officers that foiled that particular coup attempt at the time when I was the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff of GAF."

"On that particular day, the Commander-in-Chief of the Gambia Armed Forces was on an overseas trip to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania," he adduced.

When asked by his defence counsel, SM Tambedou, whether he could remember some of the officers that foiled the 21st March coup attempt, Lang Tombong Tamba replied, "I can remember Brigadier General Omar Bun Mbaye, the second accused person, Lt. Colonel Lamin Bo Badjie, the third accused person, Lt. Colonel Kawsu Camara, the 4th accused person, and some of the officers are still serving in the Armed Forces."

Defence counsel, SM Tambedou, again asked whether he knew the size of the Gambia Armed Force. At that juncture, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Richard N Chenge, objected to the question on the grounds that it is a state security matter which should not be disclosed.

In reply to the DPP, SM Tambedou said his question is relevant, and does not seek to reveal state security secrets.         

The defence witness concurred by saying, "Yes, when I was appointed as the CDS I was sworn to an Oath of Secrecy, and there is no way that I can reveal state security secrets."

He added that he knows the capability and the capacity of the Gambia Armed Forces. When further asked by his defence counsel whether he knew the number of military barracks, the witness replied in the affirmative.

DWI added that he knows the Farafenni, Basse and Yundum military barracks, and that he (DW1) knows those barracks, because he was the Chief of Defence Staff of the GAF responsible for those barracks.   

"I know these barracks, because I was the CDS of GAF responsible for these barracks. As CDS I conducted tours in order to familiarise myself with the personnel and the logistic requirements of those personnel," he told the court.

Defence counsel again asked DW1, whether as the former Chief of Defence Staff of GAF, with knowledge about the size, capability and the capacity of the Gambia Armed Force, it is possible for 300 mercenaries to carry out a coup in The Gambia.

The DPP again rose and strongly objected, on the grounds that the defence witness is not an expert, and can only give his opinion to answer that question. He cited Section 57 of the Evidence Act to further strengthen his objection.

In reply to the DPP's objection, SM Tambedou told the court that he would reply on a point of law. He stated that Section 57 of the Evidence Act, quoted by the DPP, was not revelant in this matter.

"The answer sought from the witness is not an opinion, it is evidence of fact from his knowledge, and I urge the court to overrule the DPP's objection," he stated.

In his ruling, Justice Amadi disallowed the defence counsel's question.

The first defence witness then continued testifying in his defence. He said the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces presently is His Excellency Sheikh Professor Dr. Alhaji Yahya AJJ Jammeh.

He adduced that the Commander-in-Chief of the GAF became the Head of State on 22nd July 1994.

Asked by his counsel, SM Tambedou, how many coup attempts took place since 1994, he replied that there were five coup attempts, and that he was never involved in any of those coup attempts.

"My relationship with the Commander-in-Chief has been very cordial, and I see him as my brother," Lang Tombong added. "I was trained and brought by him (the President) to the Gambia Armed Forces, and I served under him before being a President, as well as when he became the President," Tamba adduced.

"I have also served as the commander of the State Guard for a total period of seven years, and my post was at State House. As the commander of State Guard, I was responsible for all the security personnel, who were providing security to HE the President, and I was the head of his security personnel for seven years."

Further told by his lawyer that when PW2 gave evidence in that court, he said you said your motivate for the coup was because the President, among other things, was promoting women to key positions, Lang Tombong replied, "I was never involved in a coup attempt."

He said during his tenure as the Chief of Defence Staff GAF, women got promotions to the ranks of Second Lieutenant, Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Lt. Colonel and Colonel as compared to his predecessors, when the highest rank attained by women was that of Sergeant.

"So I had no cause, therefore, to hate the President for promoting women to key positions, much more to overthrow him," he added.

"I have no ambition to become a President," Lang Tombong Tamba told the court.

He continued, "apart from my military duties, I was highly involved in sporting activities. I was one time the 1st Vice- President of the Gambia Football Association. I was also the Gambia Football Association and Federation International Football Association (GFA/FIFA) security officer. I was the President of Gambia National Olympic Committee (GNOC), and I was President of the Inter-Departmental Sport Association (NISA)," he told the high court during his marathon defence.

He said he had a deputy, as the FIFA-GFA security officer, and the 5th accused (Modou Gaye) was his deputy, adding, "I later handed over my position to Modou Gaye, when I was elected as the 1st Vice-President of the Gambia Football Association."

"As the FIFA-GFA security officer, I was responsible for all security arrangements for local and international matches, and I closely worked with the 5th accused (Modou Gaye), and we had always being in touch by telephone very often."

"The 5th accused (Modou Gaye) was one time my instructor, when I was recruited into the Gambia Armed Forces, and I had one time served under him (5th accused) when I graduated from the training school."

Defence witness number one also disclosed to the court that "the 5th accused (Modou Gaye) was the Deputy Inspector General of Police, and that I closely worked with him (5th accused), especially on occasions where he represented the Inspector General of Police."

"We also communicated by telephone, and the communication ceased when I was removed as CDS," Lang Tombong Tamba further stated.

"When the 5th accused was the Deputy IGP, and I (Lang) was the CDS, our communication was purely on operational matters. That is, if the President was about to travel and I have a message for his boss, and I could not get him, I passed the message to him (5th accused)."

"And, also if a solider was arrested by the police for certain reasons, and I can't get his boss, I passed the message through him."

When both of us were at the Gambia Football Association, I had called the 5th accused on several occasions, on the telephone, to give him certain instructions with regards to security arrangements for the football matches. "Our means of communication was through mobile phones," he adduced.

Asked by his defence counsel, SM Tambedou, whether apart from what he earlier said, they did discuss anything else, he said "I have never discussed anything, apart from what I have said."

He said the 5th accused last visited him at Kololi, a day after the 2008 Tobaski, upon his invitation.

"I invited all the service Chiefs, Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Director General of Immigration, Director General of Prisons, Chief Fire Officer, Director General of Gambia Revenue Authority, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, the Chief of National Guards and with their respective deputies and senior officers of the Gambia Armed Forces to a lunch."

"I hosted the lunch in honour of the Pakistani Military Advisory Team, as they are away from their homes, and Modou Gaye was among the invitees present on that particular day," he told the court.

Told by his defence counsel that the evidence of PW1 was that he and the 5th accused person, among others, conspired to overthrow the government of The Gambia, the first defence witness replied: "I never conspired with the 5th accused to overthrow the democratically-elected government of The Gambia".

Hearing of the testimony of defence witness one continues today at the High Court in Banjul.