Gambian president stalls, with forces poised to move in

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 January, 2017, 12:24pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 January, 2017, 11:03pm

The leaders of Guinea and Mauritania arrived in Gambia’s capital on Friday in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to get defeated President Yahya Jammeh to cede power, while a regional military force was awaiting orders to act.

Until the last minute, we still think there is a solution resulting from a dialogue
Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of ECOWAS

The head of the regional force has said troops will force Jammeh out if he doesn’t step aside. A noon deadline set by the regional body passed as the Guinean and Mauritanian leaders arrived for talks.

On Thursday, Adama Barrow was inaugurated as Gambia’s new president and the UN Security Council voted to approve the regional military intervention.

The West African regional force, including tanks, moved into Gambia on Thursday evening and has met no resistance, said Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS. At least 20 military vehicles were seen poised at the border town of Karang on Friday.

Barrow, who won Gambia’s presidential election in December, was sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Senegal, where he is staying for his safety.

But Jammeh on Friday remained in the official residence in Gambia’s capital, Banjul. Increasingly isolated, he dissolved his cabinet on Thursday, said Malick Jones, the director of national television. Several ministers had already resigned in recent days, in some cases fleeing the country.

Guinean President Alpha Conde arrived in Banjul with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Mauritania has been mentioned as a possible country where Jammeh could go into exile. Conde will offer Jammeh the chance to step down peacefully, said de Souza.

Jammeh “has the choice of going with President Alpha Conde”, said de Souza. If that fails, “we will bring him by force or by will. Our troops will advance on Banjul. Until the last minute, we still think there is a solution resulting from a dialogue”.

Jammeh started negotiations with ECOWAS on Thursday and agreed to step down but demanded an amnesty for any crimes that he may have committed during his 22 years in power and that he be permitted to stay in Gambia, at his home village of Kanilai.

Barrow, in his inaugural speech, called on Jammeh to ­respect the will of the people and step aside. He also called on ­Gambia’s armed forces to remain in their barracks.

In Banjul, soldiers at checkpoints were smiling and appeared relaxed, and one said to visitors, “welcome to the smiling coast”.

African nations have begun stepping away from Jammeh, with the African Union saying

the continental body no longer recognises him.