By Mustapha Jallow
The Gambian authorities and a Senegalese diplomatic representative to Gambia on Sunday held peace talks with residents of Darsilami community in a bid to finding a lasting solution to the ongoing dispute over which side of the two borders, the village of Tranquil lies.
In the upcoming of meeting of leaders of the two nations, Gambia and Senegal – which is to be hosted in Banjul, The Gambia President Adama Barrow has used the opportunity to send an envoy to meet Darsilami villagers Gambia and Touba residents Senegal, so as to receive firsthand information on the border dispute, which will be discussed during the heads of state meeting.
The delegation at the meeting comprises the national security council heads such as Minister of Defense, Interior Minister, Deputy Chief of Staff of GAF, National Security Adviser to the President, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Deputy Director General of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Permanent Secretary Ministry of Lands, a diplomatic representative from Senegalese High Commission in Banjul, West Coast Regional Governor and National Assembly member for Brimaka South.
Gambia’s relationship with Senegal in particular has been strained over disputed lands and territorial claims along their borders that led to confrontations between the two sides.
The long standing dispute, regarding which part of the border Tranquil is situated, resulted in many accusations towards Senegal who residents of the area view as using the chaos in the village to expand its base and militarize part of the border.
Residents believed that it is only a final demarcation in the area that can determine where Tranquil actually belongs. But tensions continue to run high among residents as well as military forces of the two sides.
“The national security council is here for a fact finding mission about the border issues and the state of demarcation of the Tranquil border. This envoy was sent by President Adama Barrow,” said one of the officials, while introducing the delegation to community.
Addressing the meeting, Ousman Bojang, the Governor of West Coast Region thanked Darsilami residents for being patient with the situation. He said if the residents were not exercising patience or being law abiding, then so many ugly things would have happened in the area.
“The crisis here has given the president sleepless nights, and that is why he immediately sent this delegation to come and discuss with you and the other side. The president wants peace between the two nations, especially in the region that is why we are here,” he said.
Bojang assured the community that anything that is said or complained during the meeting will surely be extended to President Barrow.
Minister of Defence Serign Modou Njie said there will be a big meeting between Gambia and Senegal, which will be attended by the two leaders. During the meeting, he added, a lot will be discussed such as defence and security, border and trade.
“We came here to discuss with you about the border and the security crisis that is happening in this area. The reason behind this is because we want peace and stability to be achieved in the two countries,” he said.
The Minister of Defence added: “And whatever you tell us during the meeting, will be extended to the president. We will also visit the Senegalese (Touba) to hear from their side too.”
Abubakarr S. Jeng, National Security Adviser (NSA) to the President thanked the Darsilami people for being patient throughout the years – even though they were provoked.
“If you’re living at the border, and you do not have discipline; you can bring trouble to your country. But we thank you people of Darsilami for living a beautiful life without causing harm or trouble to your neighbors,” he thanked.
Jeng emphasized the support given to Gambian soldiers by the people of Darsilami, while asking them to continue supporting the army and other sister security services in the area.
“Our security forces are under your protection,” he said.
Musa Tabally Bojang, Alkalo of Darsilami expressed joy for seeing the delegation. For the past years and days, he said they were having heartaches over the disputed territory, but due to the intervention of the delegation, they are easing.
“We are law abiding people; if not, you would’ve heard that there are casualties in the area,” he told the delegates.
Bojang accused Saysu (purported Alkalo) and his few people of causing problems in the area, adding Saysu used to tell him that the place where he is residing is part of Senegalese territory.
He said: “There were lots of confrontations and if we were not acting responsibly, something would have happened here. It would have turned ugly.”
The Darsilami Alkalo had written a letter to Saysu and his followers to relocate. Bojang later requested for the backing of the Gambia government for this to happen.
But Jeng, the national security adviser stood up and asked the Alkalo to provide them with a copy of the letter, and Saysu’s children documents, especially those who are enrolled in Gambia security services.
Musu Kebba Jarju, vice president of the VDC of Darsilami said: “When there is a crisis – women and children are usually the most affected.”
She said an association of women consisting of those claiming to be in Gambian soil and those claiming to be part of Senegal was established to ensure peace is achieved within the area.
He thanked Senegalo-Gambia for playing a key role in helping them in many areas, particularly in their garden. But the association, she added fragmented due to the ongoing territorial dispute. She also thanked their youths for being mature and in exercising patience during the tension between them and the Senegalese soldiers.
Fatou Jallow alleged those claiming ownership of Tranquil are refugees from Casamance, saying they were chased by fighting in Casamance and Darsilami elders allocated them the place to settle. He said they used to have meetings about the situation, but nothing concrete came out of those meetings.
“We held several talks about tranquil and demarcation issues, but yet still no solution is proffered. The day, you will hear that we killed……..; that’s the time our government will take steps,” Jallow said.
For years, this border dispute has been going on but no action or lasting solution has been found. She said the Casamance/Gambia association would have helped in terms of trade and restoring peace, but this plan was thwarted by their neighbors because of their claim of ownership of Tranquil.
Ebou Jarju PRO of Darsilami VDC recalled how MDFC fighters used Tranquil border end to enter Gambia with arms. He tasked the Gambian delegation to discuss with their counterpart so that the place is demarcated.
Lamin J. Sanneh, the National Assembly Member (NAM) for Brimaka South said the meeting was “very timely and important.” He thanked the Gambia army for being professional; otherwise the situation would have resulted in military confrontation. He urged the authorities to look into the issue carefully because the border issue is very sensitive.
However, the team from the Security Council asked the MP Sanneh to provide them with the resolution report and other reports concerning the disputed villages.
Meanwhile, the concerns and pledge made by the residents of Darsilami were noted by the delegation. The crisis meeting was attended by council of elders, VDC members and other residents of Darsilami.
At 13pm, the delegation proceeded to Touba and Bantanyima to hear from their concerns regarding the situation. Our reporter couldn’t follow the delegation to the other side as he was not invited to cover the whole issue. He was only allowed to cover the meeting in the Gambian side.
During a meeting in 2015, the Alkalo of Touba claimed Tranquil and Bantanyima were part and parcel of Touba, which is in the Republic of Senegal. He added that the heads of the two villages are not Alkalolu, but Kabilo heads because the two settlements are kabilos of Touba.
Saysu Badjie whom Foroyaa could not find for comment, also earlier in 2015 did maintain he is the Alkalo of Tranquil. He claimed he was the Alkalo of the area until the period when the Gambian military established a base in Darsilami and they approached him to ask which side of the border Tranquil is situated and that his response was that it is in Senegal and not in the Gambia.
He said they continued asking him this question until at one point when he went with them to the Alkalo of Darsilami where he also maintained that Tranquil is in Senegal.
The Senegalese military base was in Bantanyima in 2015. Gambia and Senegalese authorities met at the Tranquil border on 7the October 2015, for purpose of demarcating the area to establish where Tranquil lies.
But both authorities did not come to agreement as former president Jammeh felt that the GPS had cheated Gambia, which resulted to the cancellation of the process. Then the Senegalese officials promised Gambia that they are going to Dakar to see their superiors.
Within blink of an eye, bulldozers were deployed to clear the area, where many farmers, crops and fences were destroyed. The Senegalese wasted no time in taking took over Touba, just few steps to Tranquil – as they claimed ownership of the area without the final demarcation process.
Schools, clinics, shops, foreign exchange bureaus and so many other things were built in Touba.