Gambia's week-long uprising against President Dawda Jawara ended today as the rebel force disappeared into the bush just ahead of advancing Senegalese troops, leaving behind their uniforms, stacks of weapons and about 130 hostages found unharmed in the rebels' abandoned stronghold.
"They have escaped into the population," a Senegalese officer said. "It will be necessary to search for them."
About 300 persons reportedly have died in fighting here since July 30, when an obscure leftist politician led a group of civilians and part of the country's paramilitary police force in rebellion while Jawara was in London for the royal wedding.
The end of the fighting between the rebels and about 1,500 troops from neighboring Senegal, who were invited in by Jawara to crush the takeover attempt, left undetermined the size of the rebel force and identities of most of its members, officials said. The rescued hostages, many the wives and children of government officials, told harrowing tales of shootouts among the rebels and repeated threats of execution during their captivity.
[In London, The Associated Press reported, British newspapers said members of Britian's crack Special Air Services undercover commando force took part in freeing the hostages in the former British colony. The British Defense Ministry refused comment.]
Lamin Faal, 16, the son of a Senegalese diplomat here, said the rebels took him with his mother and father from their home last Friday morning and brought them at gunpoint to the police barracks compound that was the rebel headquarters.
Faal said he learned that the rebels forced a number of Gambia's paramilitary yfield Force to join the coup at gunpoint. The Field Force is a 300-man paramilitary unit of the 900-man police force. The country of 525,000 people has no standing army.
"The rebels told my father that if he would tell the Senegalese to withdraw their soldiers, we would live," Faal said. "Otherwise, we would all be killed."
Faal said he was told his family and a number of other hostages were scheduled to be executed last Sunday at 3 p.m. But an hour before that time, a policeman who had been forced to join the rebels started shooting inside the compound, killing five of the rebel leaders, Faal recounted.
The policeman was then killed, Faal said, but soon afterward, the leftist leader of the rebellion, Kukoi Samba Sanyang, disappeared from the compound and was not seen again.
The rebel headquarters was a police barracks compound in the Banjul suburb of Bakau, six miles west of here. After several days of fierce fighting, including a five-hour battle yesterday, Senegalese troops closed in today on the Bakau headquarters.
After meeting no resistance, they entered the camp about 3 p.m. and found it deserted of the rebels. The hostages were locked up in cells and storerooms throughout the compound. They were transported a quarter-mile away to the British-run Medical Research Council's clinic for treatment and examinations.
"None are in a bad way," a British doctor there said.
Reporters were allowed to inspect the rebel compound several hours later. Just inside the gates was a barracks storeroom where Soviet AK47 assault rifles -- part of a Soviet donation to the Gambian government in 1977 -- were stacked with piles of ammunition. Senegalese troops stood around in small groups surrounding the French-built armored cars and tanks with which they had cautiously entered the compound.
The hostages included about 18 children of high Gambian officials. Four were children of President Jawara. Four other Jawara children had already escaped with Jawara's wife, Thielal N'Diaye, who was rescued from the rebels as she was being taken to the medical clinic Wednesday.
A Senegalese officer said the rebels shed their uniforms and donned civilian dress before fleeing.
Senegalese soldiers later arrived at the compound's gates with a man they suspected of being a rebel. He had been caught carrying five Soviet assault rifles as he ran through the bush away from the compound, the soldiers said.
The man was wearing black slacks, freshly cut below the knees, a blue shirt and sneakers without socks. He was taken into a barracks room at the rear of the compound.
At the medical center, about 100 of the freed adult male hostages chanted Moslem prayers of thanksgiving, bowing as one with their foreheads touching the ground.
A group of nine children sat on a hospital veranda sucking oranges. They chatted happily with each other and reporters about their period of captivity.
ythe hostage's actions at the compound indicated that the rebel force became increasingly disoriented, especially after the departure of Sanyang. Left without a leader, Faal said, the rebels fed the hostages a small amound of rice and oil each afternoon. "Every day they told us they were going to kill us," Faal added.
Shortly after 2 p.m. today, Faal said, a rebel pushed away the boulder blocking the door to the room where he and 17 other children were being kept. "He came inside and told us we would all be shot this afternoon. Then he left."
At 3:15 p.m., a Senegalese soldier pushed his head into the room and said, "You are all free," Faal said.
Another hostage, police commander M.B. Kahn, who was locked up in a jail cell in the compound during the week-long ordeal, said he felt the entire affair was the work of a disgruntled Field Force official who had been dismissed by Jawara after being implicated in an October coup attempt.
"Former deputy Field Force commander Usman Bojang was the brains behind the entire coup attempt," Kahn said in an interview at the clinic. Barefoot and shiftless, he said Bojany was killed on the second day of the coup attempt during fighting in downtown Banju. "The rebels lost their military leader when he was killed," Kahn added.