Gambia to release hitmen

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Three ex-army officers in Gambia, who told a truth commission they participated in killings ordered by former president Yahya Jammeh, will be released, a minister said.

In July, Lieutenant Malick Jatta said he and two colleagues in Jammeh’s elite guard, the “junglers,” shot dead a prominent journalist, testifying before a commission set up by government to investigate past abuses.

Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou said the men’s release was a necessary part of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission’s process.

“The TRRC is not a court of law and a primary objective is to establish the truth,” he said.

“We must not scare people away from telling the truth because that will not be in anyone’s interest.”

Jammeh fled to Equatorial Guinea in 2017 after losing a presidential election, ending 22 years in power marked by extrajudicial killings, torture and forced disappearances as well as pilfering state assets.

The commission’s investigations of abuses is ongoing – among them, the killings of journalist Deyda Hydara and about 50 migrants who Jammeh feared came to overthrow him.

Members of Jammeh’s political party denied accusations of abuses and corruption.

The announcement of the officers’ release outraged victims’ relatives and human rights groups, who fear the men could escape justice or pose a threat.

“We are appealing to government to make sure these self-confessed killers are not in our streets, or in our communities,” said Hydara’s son, Baba Hydara.

“It’s everything we fought for 22 years trashed,” he told Reuters.

According to Jatta’s testimony, he was paid 50,000 dalasi ($1,000) to carry out a hit and learned the following day the target was Hydara, a newspaper editor working for Agence France-Presse and Reporters Without Borders.

“If these hitmen flee The Gambia now, not only will they escape justice, but we will lose key witnesses in any future trial against Yahya Jammeh for ordering these gruesome crimes,” said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch in a statement.