Four Gambian ministers resign as regional forces prepare to step in

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 10:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 10:29pm

Gambia’s ministers of finance, foreign affairs, trade and the environment have resigned from President Yahya Jammeh’s government, state television said, as regional forces prepare to oust the veteran leader unless he steps down by Thursday.

Jammeh, in power since a 1994 coup, has become isolated at home and abroad after he refused to accept his Dec. 1 election defeat to opposition leader Adama Barrow.

The surprise loss was seen as a boost for democracy in the former British colony, which has had only two presidents since it gained independence in 1965.

But Jammeh’s defiance has sent the tiny West African country into crisis. As well as the defections from the government, hundreds of Gambians have fled abroad, fearing violence.

A senior Nigerian military source said Nigeria and other West African nations were prepared to intervene militarily to remove him if he remains in office after Wednesday, when his presidential mandate runs out.

“The chiefs of defence staff of West African countries met yesterday [Monday] to discuss strategies on the best way to get Yahya Jammeh out if he refuses to hand over power,” said the Nigerian source, who declined to be identified.

“Some West African countries will be contributing troops, including Nigeria, for the operation,” said the source, adding that the United Nations and African Union had offered support to regional body ECOWAS for the plan.

Gambian state television said late on Monday that Finance Minister Abdou Kolley was being replaced by Benjamin Roberts, the Minister of Tourism. But finance ministry sources said on Tuesday that Roberts had also resigned. Ministry sources said other government figures, including Foreign Minister Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, had left the government and the country. The mayor of the capital Banjul has also resigned, according to sources at the city council.

The departures follow the resignation of the communications minister last week.

Hundreds have crossed the Gambian border into Senegal since the election, fearing for their safety because of the political turmoil, and Senegalese authorities have increased security.

“We are scared. There are soldiers with guns all the time,” said Awa Sanneh, 25, from Birkama in Gambia, who was leaving with two children and 24 other family members.

The Senegalese town of Diouloulou, 12km south of the border point of Seleti, has seen 650 Gambians cross since Christmas and the flow has increased in recent days, according to the mayor’s office.