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General News of Thursday, 14 May 2009

Source: GNA

Foreign Minister receives report on murdered Ghanaians in the Gambia

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Accra, May 14, GNA - Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, returned home yesterday from Abuja, Nigeria, where he attended a meeting on the killings and disappearance of Ghanaians in the Gambia.

Briefing journalists on arrival at the Kotoka International Airport, Alhaji Mumuni said on August 15, 2008, the UN and ECOWAS Commission set up an international investigation panel to look into the case. This followed an agreement between Ghana and the Gambia to bring a closure to the matter in a manner consistent with the principles of justice and respect for the dignity and human rights of the deceased and disappeared persons. He said the agreement also sought to restore the cordial relations between the two countries which had been strained as a result of the event.

Alhaji Mumuni said after eight months of investigations, the panel submitted its final report to the UN and ECOWAS, which were facilitators of the process, on April 3, 2009. He said on April 23, 2009, the UN informed the governments of Ghana and the Gambia that it was convening a meeting in Abuja on May 11, 2009 to present the report of the fact-finding team to the respective governments. The foreign minister said the report established that a group of West African nationals including 40 Ghanaians, departed the shores of Senegal on July 22, 2005, and reached the Gambia on the morning of July 23, 2005.

Alhaji Mumuni said the report also established that there was no ship waiting to transport the group to Europe from the Gambian waters, as members of the group were made to believe by the organisers of the trip. He said the whole trip, by the findings of the report, was a scam perpetrated on the unsuspecting travellers by one Captain Taylor and Lamine Tunkara from the Gambia.

The report further found that the diaries and daily logs of both the Banjul and the Bundum Police Stations confirmed the presence, period of detention and subsequent release of two groups of individuals at each of the respective facilities during the period.

The report found it incredible, especially with the cases of Mr John Akorful and Mr Bright Antwi, who were detained in Kanifeng Police station and were allegedly released, that the police would release two persons who were alleged to be part of a larger group of West Africans of which eight were found dead in Tanji forest in Gambia, less than 24 hours earlier, without ascertaining their whereabouts. The minister said whilst the findings also revealed that some "rogue elements" within the security services of The Gambia were to blame for the deaths and disappearances of the Ghanaians, it did find that the state of Gambia and its leadership were not to blame in any way for the unfortunate incident.

Alhaji Mumuni said the panel, however, concluded that the government of the Gambia was responsible for the protection of the human rights of all persons on its territory, and was therefore liable for the incident, regardless of whether those violations were committed "de jure or de facto."

He said the report recommended that the government of The Gambia provided compensation and redress to be agreed on by both the governments of Ghana and the Gambia. He said it was also recommended that both governments agreed to the establishment of a mechanism, possibly a joint commission, to assist in determining the total amount of compensation or any appropriate form of redress, identify the individuals who should receive compensation and the amount that should be paid to each individual, based on agreed criteria.

The minister said the government of the Gambia was to facilitate the exhumation and return to Ghana of the bodies of six of the deceased persons who were found in Tanji forest and who have been identified as Ghanaians for fitting burials. He said the report upheld three of the four demands that the government of Ghana had made to the government of the Gambia before the matter could be closed.

These were an investigation to unravel the truth surrounding the deaths and disappearance of about 44 Ghanaians in the Gambia, identification and the punishment of the perpetrators, compensation for the dead and the disappeared and exhumation and return of the bodies of the deceased individuals to Ghana for fitting burials.

Alhaji Mumuni said even though Ghana welcomed the findings and recommendations of the reports, questions were raised about certain findings which required further probing.

"For instance even though the report said a scam was perpetrated by Lamine Tunkara and Captain Taylor, it failed to describe the exact nature of the scam," Alhaji Mumuni said. He said the delegation also expressed concern that though the report had identified Tunkara as a Gambian living in the Gambia, he was not made available for interrogation by the panel. Alhaji Mumuni said considering the fact that it has been proved that Tunkara had committed the crime, the Ghana delegation had expected that the Gambia government would have made a recommendation for his prosecution as well as the Captain.

He said concerns were raised about the failure of the panel to visit the site where the deceased were buried considering the fact that the Gambia side had contested that the deceased were Ghanaians and their identity yet to be established, adding that "It feared the Gambia side could show different burial sites which did have our national". Alhaji Mumuni said the delegation also found it curious that the report did not contain any information on whether the West African nationals who were involved in the incident had been investigated as well as the outcome of the investigation.

Alhaji Mumuni said the Ghana delegation, however, accepted the report on grounds that it was consistent with the principle of Justice, International Law and Human Rights adding that consideration was also given to the need to bring peace and satisfaction to the family of the deceased and the disappeared as well as the need to restore the historical cordial relations between the two countries. The Foreign Minister said the Gambia rejected the recommendations on the grounds that the Gambian authorities could not be responsible for the protection of persons whose presence in the country it did not know.

He said the parties agreed to draft a communiqu=E9 which was to be presented to their respective governments after which another meeting would be convened for possible signature of the agreement. Other members of the Ghana's delegation included Mr Cletus Avoka, Minister of the Interior and officials from both foreign and interior ministries.

The Gambia side was led by Dr Omar Aleiu Turay, an official from the Interior Ministry.

The meeting was co-chaired by Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, President of Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Commission and Mr Haile Menkerios, the Assistant Secretary of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs with Mr Bagudu Hirsa, a Nigerian Minister of State at the Presidency, as an observer. 14 May 09

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