Loyalist Gambian government forces, supported by Senegalese troops, reportedly retook the country's radio station briefly this morning in an assault that met with stiff resistance from leftist rebels.
Radio Senegal broadcast the capture of the radio station in the Bakau suburb of Gambia's capital Banjul at 1 p.m. today, and diplomatic sources in Dakar, Senegal, said attcaking soldiers had met some resistance. Later reports indicated that the leaders of Thursday's coup attempt were in control of the radio again and continued to broadcast rebel propaganda.
According to a Reuter dispatch from Dakar, Senegalese troops routed rebels in Banjul and freed at least one of their hostages, Senegalese diplomat Seydou Nourou Ba, who was at one of the radio station's buildings. There were no immediate reports on the number of casualties or whether any of more than a dozen hostages held by the rebels were killed or wounded.
The rebels, led by an obscure leftist radical named Kukli Samba Sanyang, had threatened to kill the hostages is Senegalese troops did not withdraw by 5 p.m. yesterday. Sanyang also announced the formation of a 12-member National Revolutionary Council and said he was suspending the constitution, dissolving parliament and banning political parties.
President Dawda Jawara said yesterday that the Senegalese troops would not be withdrawn nor would the threats to the hostages -- who included one of his two wives and some of their children -- influence the course of events.
Earlier reports had said that two planeloads of Senegalese troop reinforcements had landed at Yundum International Airport outside Banjul this morning almost simultaneously with the antirebel drive by loyalist paramilitary and Senegalese soldiers on the rebel-held radio staton.
The fight for the radio station, which rebel forces took in the predawn darkness Thursday morning, was the latest event in a stretched-out drama of bloody rebellion against Jawara's government.
By early this afternoon, it was still not known how many people died in the fighting in Banjul, Gambia's capital of 40,000 people. The fighting has gone on sporadically since the rebellion started.
When the coup began Jawara was attending the London wedding of Prince Charles, but he flew into the Senegalese capital of Dakar early Friday morning. Before leaving London, Jawara had asked Senegalese President Abdou Diouf by telephone to send in troops to put down the rebellion in accordance with a 16-year-old mutual defense pact.
Senegalese forces moved overland into Gambia -- Senegal surrounds Gambia on three sides -- on Thursday evening and Senegalese paratroopers dropped onto Yundum Airport Friday morning and retook it from the rebels.
Besides leftist civilian followers of Sanyang, an unknown number of the country's paramilitary Field Force members participated in the bloody coup attempt. The Field Force makes up one-third of the country's 900-member police force. Gambia, a small country with a population of 500,000, has no standing army.
On Friday, the rebels put a woman claiming to be Jawara's wife, Thielal N'Diaye, and other hostages on the radio. Sources in Dakar said this morning that Senegalese authorities had been jamming the radio's broadcasts.
In a press conference in Dakar yesterday, Jawara refused to say how many Senegalese troops were fighting alongside the Gambian forces still loyal to his government.
Jawara did reveal that the dissident Field Force members and leftist civilian rebels "were able to seize [Banjul's] armory and to remove most of the arms and ammunition from the loyal [paramilitary] elements."
Jawara reiterated his accusation "that there is a strong probability that there has been a foreign influence behind" the coup attempt, but continued to decline to name any country. "We shall carefully look into it," was all he would say.
In October, about 150 crack Senegalese paratroopers were flown into Banjul at Jawara's request after the head of the Gambian Field Force was assassinated. At that time, Jawara accused Libya of trying to destabilize his government and banned two leftist groups, including the Marxist Gambian Socialist Revolutionary Party led by Sanyang.