|Untying the hostages/prisoners (photo credit: Saikou Jammeh)|
“Gambia Secures Release of Eight Senegalese Soldiers From MFDC,” the headline of the Daily Observer, a leading pro-government newspaper said on December 10, 2012.
The headline, similar to that of The Point, a privately-owned leading newspaper was referring to the release of eight Senegalese prisoners’ who were held by separatist rebels, the Movement for the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC).
The Point had its facts quoted from the national broadcaster, the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) which erroneously reported on the ceremony, held on Dec. 9 in Casamance - 200kilometers from the Gambian border-village of Tamba Kunda.
The release of the prisoners followed peace talks set in motion by the Rome-based Catholic Church's Sant'Egidio community upon the invitation of the rebels.
The fact is that the release of the prisoners (7 soldiers and a fire-fighter) was born-out of talks between the Senegalese Government and the rebels held in Rome, Italy. The Gambia Government was only there to facilitate the release of the hostages and did not secure their release, a local journalist who witnessed the ceremony told The North Bank Evening Standard.
“The rebels had decided not to have any contact with the Senegalese Government on this occasion, hence, the Gambia Government was invited to facilitate the release of the hostages and hand them over to the Senegalese. So the two newspapers and the TV’s reportage of the event are inaccurate,” the journalist added.
The Daily Observer and GRTS (the TV) further reported that Gambia’s Minister for Presidential Affairs Dr. Njogu Bah (recently appointed Information Minister) read MFDC rebel leader Salif Sadio’s statement on his behalf.
But according to another journalist who was present, Dr. Bah only translated into English Sadio’s statement when he spoke in French. Sadio also spoke in Wolof, a popular local commercial language widely spoken in the Senegambia region.
He added: “I think this whole issue is a violation of the principles of ethical journalism especially accurate reportage.”
“I think if any credit is due specifically as to who secured the release of the hostages; it should go to the Catholic Church's Sant'Egidio community, the mediator in the Casamance conflict.”
Earlier, the Sant'Egidio community said in a statement that the release of the eight prisoners is the first positive result from renewed peace talks seeking to end a 30-year-old, low-intensity conflict in the Casamance region.
Written by Modou S. Joof