Gambian President Dawda Jawara has hinted that the insurrection that was put down in his country last week may force Gambia -- known in recent years for its democracy -- to be more concerned with security than with domestic freedoms in the future.
Several thousand soldiers from Gambia's larger neighbor, Senegal, were called in to suppress the bloody uprising.
"These events have proved that domestic stability is a very fragile thing," Jawara said at an hour-long press conference yesterday. "We cannot toy with the security of the state."
Jawara said he wants to integrate Gambia's security forces with Senegal's.
"It is extremely useful to have as close as possible security coordination with Senegal," he said. "In fact, I have mentioned the word integration, integration of our security services."
The 57-year-old Scottish-trained veterinarian, who has led Gambia since 1962, added that he is still committed to democracy but said "we have to strike a balance" between political security and human rights.
Leftist civilians and part of the country's 900-member police force attempted to overthrow the government on July 30. Jawara was in London at the time attending the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. Gambia is a former British colony.
At Jawara's request and in conformity to a 16-year-old mutual defense treaty between the two countries, Senegalese President Abdou Diouf sent in troops on the afternoon of the coup attempt. Senegal lies on three sides of Gambia, which extends into West Africa from the Atlantic in a narrow strip, 200 miles long and 18 miles wide.
The first three days the rebels controlled the capital, Banjul, and the surrounding suburbs. The Senegalese troops captured Banjul Aug. 2 and finally chased the rebels out of a suburban paramilitary police barracks on Thursday.
Interviews with Gambians indicate the residents of Banjul welcomed the coup with cheers the first day, but lost their enthusiasm when prisoners released from jail and armed by the rebels began indiscriminate killing. There was also widespread looting of Lebanese and Indian shops along Banjul's main downtown Wellington Street.
A reported 500 civilians -- some Gambians said up to 2,000 -- were killed and many Senegalese soldiers died in the week-long fighting.
Jawara said he did not yet have estimates on the number of civilian dead, and he refused to release the number of Senegalese casualties. The rebel losses were unknown, he said.
The rebels had taken about 160 hostages to a police barracks compound in the diplomatic and foreign residential suburb of Bakau, six miles west of the capital. They threatened to kill the hostages, among whom were one of Jawara's two wives and eight of his children, unless the Senegalese troops were withdrawn. When Senegalese troops surrounded them on the compound on Thursday, the rebels were allowed to escape into the surrounding bush, mangrove swamps and lower-income African neighborhoods.
"Our concern was the lives of the hostages and not the rebels," said Senegalese Army commandant Boubacar Wane after criticism that the Senegalese had muffed the operation.
"The Senegalese troops saw them when they were running, but they were under strict orders not to fire or else there would have been carnage," Wane said, referring to the danger to the hostages and the 400-odd foreign residents living in Bakau, who had been trapped there since the fighting began. All the hostages and residents emerged from the fighting unharmed.
A Western diplomatic source concurred with Wane's assessment, saying the American, British, French and West German diplomatic missions here "hammered" the Senegalese about conducting the anti-rebel drive in a way to ensure a minimum loss of life to civilian innocents.
Gambians said that the initial public support for the rebels stemmed from Gambia's deteriorating economic situation and an austerity budget that the government introduced in July.
Gambia remains under a state of emergency and an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew while Army forces search for the escaped rebels. Jawara said Yundum International Airport will open Monday, nevertheless.