Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has fired his interior minister and replaced him with a military officer previously convicted of plotting a coup against him, in the latest unpredictable move from the west African strongman.
A press release read over state television on Sunday night said longtime minister Ousman Sonko would be replaced “with immediate effect” by Momodou Alieu Bah, who helped mount a 2006 coup against Jammeh.
Jammeh has fended off several attempted coups since coming to power in 1994 via the same method.
Bah had previously served as finance director for the Gambia’s armed forces, and hails from Lamin, a village close to the capital, Banjul.
He was sentenced to 25 years in jail in 2006 following the attempted overthrow but granted amnesty in 2010 after he testified during the trial of the chief of defence staff of the Gambia Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Lang Tombong Tamba.
Bah’s sacked predecessor Sonko was previously a member of the presidential guard and protected Jammeh when he was threatened with a separate coup attempt in 2000, rather than joining other guards mounting an insurrection.
Sonko had served as interior minister since 2006 except for his brief 2012 appointment as ambassador to Spain — a decision that Jammeh reversed one week later.
Sonko’s profile was still available to view on the Gambian government’s website on Monday, but had disappeared by the evening.
Last week the United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said he was “alarmed” by reports of violence against protesters, and the torture and unexplained deaths of detainees in the Gambia, warning of “serious repercussions of any further decline in the situation”.
Jammeh is expected to win a fifth term in a December election, and his regime is regularly accused by rights groups of arranging the forcible disappearance of opponents.
Since independence from Britain in 1965, the Gambia has had just one other leader, Dawda Jawara, who served until the current president toppled him in a 1994 coup.