Gambian President Dawda Kairaba Jawara flew back into the war-torn capital of Banjul today as loyalist paramilitary forces and Senegalese troops captured the city's "strategic points" from well-armed rebels after four days of fighting, according to a Gambian diplomat and Radio Senegal.
There was no independent confirmation of Jawara's return to his country after an attempted coup early Thursday by leftist-led paramilitary and civilian forces.
Gambia's ambassador to Senegal, Bakary Dabo, said in a brief conversation tonight that Jawara left Dakar, capital of Senegal, at noon and arrived in Banjul just before 1 p.m.
"There is no organized resistance in the city," Dabo said. "The city is entirely in the hands of the government."
Little known outside Africa, pro-Western Gambia has been a model of democratic government since it won independence in 1965. On the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa, it has a population of 500,000 and no standing army. Until another alleged plot to overthrow the government was discovered last October, it was noted for its domestic stability.
While Radio Senegal said loyalists and Senegalese troops have regained complete control of the island capital, there have been conflicting and confusing reports on the status of the rebels' hold on the city.
Here in Barra, on the northern shore of the Gambia River directly opposite Banjul, Gambians watched as smoke rose from government buildings. Two Senegalese boats patrolled in the center of the wide river, and a French-built Senegalese Puma troop-carrying helicopters landed at 1:30 p.m. in the area where the smoke was rising.
Agence France-Press news agency reported that the rebels continued to broadcast all day, on "Radio Banjul," threats to kill 29 hostages, including 18 or 19 children.
Senegal's radio has claimed recapture of the radio station and Yundum International Airport by Senegalese soldiers. Independent sources confirmed the recapture of the airport, but the status of the radio station remained unclear.
Diplomatic sources in Dakar, Senegal's capital, said they understood that only Gambians and Senegalese had been injured in the fighting, but could give no estimates on the numbers of injured or the status of the hostages, who have been in the rebels' hands since Thursday.
The rebels, led by an obscure Marxist named Kukli Samba Sanyang, made their move against the government at 5 a.m. Thursday.
Jawara was in London for the wedding of the prince of Wales at the time.
Sanyang's rebels include members of the country's paramilitary Field Force, which is made up of one-third of Gambia's 900-member police force.
Part of the Field Force and Gambia's police remained loyal to the government and linked up with the Senegalese troops who invaded Gambia Thursday and Friday at Jawara's request.
Sanyang, who said his forces were planning to establish "a dictatorship of the proletariat," accused Jawara's government of "nepotism, injustice, tribalism and corruption."
Today in Barra, a Gambian who idenfitied himself as a government health inspector, said that Gambians resented the role of the Senegalese troops in putting down the rebellion.
"The possibility of instability here will continue even if the rebels are beaten," he said. Several Gambians in the crowd around him nodded in agreement.
The coup attempt had been preceded the week before by demonstrations in Banjul over food shortages. Gambia, a semiarid Sahelian country, has suffered from two years of insufficients rainfall.