By: Mafugi Ceesay & Mustapha Jarju
The Gambia Armed Forces visited several affected villages in the Fonis on Saturday following heightened tensions between Senegalese soldiers and MFDC rebels in Casamance last month.
The latest clashes led to the displacement of more than five thousand residents and scores of internally displaced families in the Gambia’s Foni.
The GAF visit seeks to restore hope and confidence in residents of villages affected by the conflict. Stability has mostly returned and residents who fled for their lives are slowly returning to their villages.
The Gambia Armed Forces say its key drive is to protect the territorial integrity of the country. It’s why GAF is moving to restore hope and assurance in the Foni area where communities have been long caught in the conflict between Senegalese forces and MFDC fighters.
As we entered kalimba, we could discern that life had returned to normalcy, but some empty houses and a lonely football pitch were visible signs of recent fighting across the southern border.
We journeyed several kilometers before reaching another village called Maran where the narrative remains the same. Empty houses and kids waving at the convoy.
In other communities like Gekest, women could be spotted doing their daily chores with youths sitting at the Bantaba.
Residents in the communities visited expressed great delight in the GAF endeavor. Villages such as Funtang are getting back to daily life but a few minutes away the GAF convoy entered a red zone, arguably the epicenter of the conflict.
A picture of ravaged and abandoned cashew farms and empty homes manifested the worst of the January 26 clashes between Senegalese and MFDC forces.
Army PRO captain Malick sanyang was quick to show us where stray bombshells were landing.
As we entered Ballet, men could be seen relaxing under shady Mango trees, enjoying the nice afternoon breeze.
The village head Abdoulie Bojang welcomed the officers and thanked Colonel Bojang and his team for a job well done.
‘’Thanks be to Allah, we faced serious challenges in the past month. We vacated our village twice during the first tension and after two weeks, another one erupted.
The recent one was very severe. Shells were landing in our houses. Colonel Bojang and his team tried; they were the ones helping us to stay away from the shells. Everyone ran except for a few people’’.
Alkali Bojang urged the government to help his people with more food supplies.
‘’We are suffering. We need help! The bombshells have killed most of our goats, sheep, and cattle’’.
From Ballet village, less than two minutes away lies Karounorr village where family men who rely on cashew plantations for survival say they do not feel safe about working on their cashew farms anymore.
Modou Lamin Colley the alkalo of Kanpur village narrated the ordeal faced by his village.
‘’When the fighting erupted, we fled to our relatives residing around transGambia. However, after conducting several patrols, the men of colonel Bojang asked us to return to the area because it is fully secure’’.
From Karounorr, the military convoy proceeded to Baipul village and Bail before entering another red zone that used to house a rebel camp.
From Paypal, we proceeded to Gelangfaal village, where a signboard clearly warns. “Beware of land mines.”
As we entered, we could see women laundering clothes at a local pump.
Ismaila Badjie the son of the village head urged the government to embrace their communities as citizens of The Gambia.
“We are under the government’s responsibility. They should not ignore us. The government should be very observant because we are sitting here with the conviction that we are Gambians’’.
In Opat village, we caught up with the imam Sulayman Sonko who told TAT the community is facing a hunger crisis.
‘’You cannot sleep with an empty stomach, we have not received any food aid, talk less of money. We urged the government to support us with the feeding of refugees.”
The Gambia Armed Forces have been greatly helpful to communities as first responders with increased border protection to protect lives and property on the country’s southern border.