Protesters say they were only armed with banners

(JollofNews) – Residents of Foni have rubbished allegations that they were armed with single barrel guns and machetes during Friday’s fatal clash in Kanilai with officers of the Senegal led military intervention force in the Gambia.

The residents who took to the streets to protest against the heavy military presence in their community said none of them was armed with even a stone when they were shot at by the military.

The Gambia’s Interior minister, Mai Ahmad Fatty, has accused the resident some of whom he said were from Casamance of taking traditional weapons to the demonstration and  engaging in provocative acts against members of the security forces in the area.

He added that the protesters had failed to secure a permit from the Inspector General of Police to organise their protest contrary to the laws of the Gambia and had set fire to tyres, obstructed traffic and  caused commotion in the area.

But a spokesman for the youths, David Kujabi, who was also at the demonstrations said the ministers allegations are completely unfounded.

“The whole of Foni gathered in Kanilai to mount a peaceful demonstration and to bring to the attention of the authorities some of the harassments, threats and intimidation we are receiving from the regional soldiers posted in the area,” he said.

“The soldiers are residing in the bushes where the locals graze their cattle and they would detain and sometimes punish us whenever we go to collect our cattle or collect firewood. The security situation here has become volatile since the deployment of the regional soldiers. Some of the teachers posted to the village have failed to take up their posts and many parents have stopped sending their children due to the security situation.”

Mr Kujabi said it was out of concerns for their safety and wellbeing that they decided to take to the streets with only their banners  some of which read ” A call for concern. Foni should not be left out or intimidated for any Reason. I love Foni, I love Gambia and Despite our political stand and differences, we are a people of the Gambia and should be treated as one!!”

He added: “While on our way to the main highway, we were stopped by the Ecomig soldiers who started shooting at us. Some of the soldiers who were standing fired in the air while those who were  on their knees fired straight at us.”

One of the demonstrators, Haruna Jatta, 54, died of his injuries a few hours later while six others sustained various injuries.

“I want to make it clear that we went out to demonstrate peacefully and were not armed with even a stone, he said.

“We never expected things to turn out the way they did. All we wanted was to express our concerns peacefully.We don’t hate the military because a large percentage of youths from Foni are in the military but what we are saying is that the militarisation of the area is a threat to our community and wellbeing.”