Gambia Detains US Peace Corps Volunteer, and Six Other Environmental Staff
Detainees Accused Of “ Undermining President Jammeh’s” Illegal Sand Mining Activities
US EMBASSY SECURES THE RELEASE OF PHILIP ARMSTRONG!!!
REMAINING DETAINEES ARE STILL UNDER NIA DETENTION
By Pa Nderry M’Bai, & Fatou Barry, Banjul
Philip Armstrong, an American Peace Corps Volunteer attached to Gambia’s National Environmental Agency, (NEA) has been arrested alongside with six other senior officials of the Agency, authorities said on Monday. Mr. Armstrong, and his co detainees were being interrogated by Gambia’s most feared spy agency—the National Intelligence Agency, the (NIA) on Saturday, on allegations of undermining the operations of a “ local sand mining company” said to be belonging to President Yahya Jammeh, which is engaged in “illegal” sand mining activities along Gambia’s coastal sites, a senior official of the Jammeh administration said.
The US Peace Corps Volunteer Philip Armstrong, and the following NEA officials: Malick Bah, Abubacarr Kujabi, Mbye Cham, Bubcarr Jallow, Sheriff Saidykhan( Driver) and Famara Drammeh were invited for questioning at the NIA headquarters in Banjul on Wednesday after confronting fleets of truck drivers sand miners along the coastal areas Tuesday, authorities said.
The sand miners were told to cease operations on site with immediate effect—given the fact that such “environmental exploitation” poses a major ramification on the nation’s already depleted soil erosion, coupled with other environmental challenges befalling the impoverished tiny West African country.
Little did the NEA staffers knew at the material time that the sand mining company belongs to President Yahya Jammeh, sources said. The officials went as far as confronting one Pa Bojang, who had an office at the “Standard Chartered House” building, situated along the Kairaba Avenue to discuss the environmental ramifications associated with such illegal sand mining activities on the environment.
Mr. Bojang is said to be main man coordinating, and managing Jammeh’s “clandestine” sand mining company. Mr. Bojang resorts to reporting the NEA officials to the President—who by virtue of his position as the Head of State is also responsible for the operations of the National Intelligence Agency, sources said. A furious President Jammeh gave directive for the arrest of the NEA officials including the American Peace Corps Volunteer Phlip Armstrong, State House official said.
Shortly after their meeting with Mr. Bojang on Tuesday, the NEA officials, including the US Peace Corps Volunteer Philip Armstrong were summoned for questioning at the NIA on Wednesday, sources said. They were briefly held at the NIA on Wednesday, only to be asked to report back to the Agency on Friday, which they did.
The NEA officials were again released, and asked to report back to the NIA on Saturday, but were detained this time around, sources told the Freedom Newspaper.
Some senior officials of the United States Embassy in Banjul visited the NIA offices on Saturday to help secure the release of Mr. Armstrong, who was later released, including one of the NEA officials detainees, sources said.
It is unclear under what circumstances Mr. Armstrong, and the said NEA official were released, but well placed sources close to the NIA confirmed that the US Embassy facilitated the release of Philip Armstrong. The remaining NEA officials are still under detention.
Meanwhile, the head of the unit responsible for Coastal Management in The Gambia, Mr. Jamma Suwareh has been arrested. Mr. Suwareh was arrested shortly after the nation’s operation clean the nation, sources said.
Our reporter earlier visited the affected sites, and found a fleet of vehicles said to be belonging to President Jammeh. The workers could be seen loading sand in the trucks.
It would be recalled that the Freedom Newspaper reported in its January 16th Edition about an illegal sand mining activity taking place along Gambia’s coastal river. The President Yahya Jammeh was linked to the clandestine sand mining activity. Below is the link to our previous story:
On January 26th 2010, Forestry Minister Jatto Sillah, issued a statement condemning illegal sand mining in the area. Below is the link to Jatto’s condemnation of illegal sand mining in The Gambia:
President Jammeh is the head of the Environmental Management Council in The Gambia. Mr. Jammeh’s involvement in illegal sand mining is being viewed as an attempt to derail national efforts to preserve the nation’s flora, and fauna. Sand mining has led to the destruction of Gambia’s sandy beaches—which is a source of attraction, and entertainment for visiting tourists.
Besides, his involvement in illegal sand mining, the President Yahya Jammeh is also engaged in the importation of cement, transportation, sugar, and food commodities in the country. He also owns the majority of bakeries in the Greater Banjul Area, including the one at his native home village Kailai. Mr. Jammeh has also been linked to land grabbing, and drug trafficking in the region.
The United States Peace Corps contributed immensely towards Gambia’s socio-economic development—most importantly in the area of education, health, environmental preservation, and agriculture.
President John F Kennedy was credited for the formation Peace Corps in 1957. Since the emergence of Peace Corps, the organization had been reaching out to third world countries—where aids, malaria, and other tropical diseases are endemic. The Gambia is of no exception to Peace Corps’s educational, and health assistance program.
Meanwhile, attempts to seek comments from the Executive Director of NEA Pa Sarr proved futile. NEA officials were not available to answer to our phone calls. Officials of the US Embassy were also not available for comments.