The two Gambian army generals and former close aides to ex autocratic ruler Yahya Jammeh who have been charged with desertion have faced the court martial on Wednesday for the first time since their return from Equatorial Guinea.
General Umpa Mendy, former principal protection officer for Jammeh and General Ansumana Tamba, Commander of the State Guards battalion, are currently facing a minimum of 2-year imprisonment to life if convicted.
The two army generals with strong ties to Jammeh have left Gambia with the ex ruler on January 22 for Equatorial Guinea where the strongman lives in exile.
The state guards battalion was an elite military unit that has under its command the purported killers of the former rulers known widely in Gambia as “jugglers”.
According to the Gambia Arm Forces Act, a convict on desertion could face up to life imprisonment or a minimum sentence of two years in jail or a dismissal from the army.
The defense lawyers of the generals who appeared in civilian cloth, contrary to court martial procedures, have made a submission for the court to throw out their case, an argument that was overruled by the 5-member jury led by Aminata Saho Ceesay.
The general’s lawyers have argued that the two cannot be tried by the court martial because they are not effectively serving the Gambia Arm Forces since they were on Absent Without Leave (AWOL) and their salaries were stopped.
Captain Suwaibou Jammeh, the lead lawyer for defense, said the court martial does not therefore have the jurisdiction to hear the case.
However, Aminata Saho Ceesay dismissed the submission of the defense lawyers on grounds that the two generals have not been discharged by Gambian army and are therefore serving members.
She said there was no evidence that the generals were discharged and being on AWOL does not make them non-serving members of the arm forces.
The case resumes on April 25 when the generals are expected to take a plea and the judge has ordered for them to be given their uniform as a military tradition.