The Oasis Reporters
January 20, 2017
Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh, who lost elections last month, has until midday Friday to hand over power and agree to leave the country or face military action, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said in a statement.
“We have suspended operations and given him an ultimatum,” said Marcel Alain de Souza, head of ECOWAS, adding that “if by midday, he doesn’t agree to leave The Gambia … we really will intervene militarily,” he added.
De Souza said 7,000 troops would be mobilized by Senegal and four other nations, a day after they first crossed into Gambia.
Final talks will be led by Guinean President Alpha Conde in the Gambian capital, Banjul, Friday morning, according to de Souza.
U.N.: Barrow is president
The United Nations Security Council has recognized Adama Barrow as Gambia’s new president while longtime leader Yahya Jammeh refuses to give up power.
Barrow took the oath of office Thursday at the Gambian embassy in neighboring Senegal. He was to have been sworn in at the Gambian capital of Banjul.
A Senegalese army spokesman tells Western news agencies that West African troops crossed into Gambia Thursday to keep the peace and that “significant” military resources are available.
A Nigerian spokesman said Nigerian forces are also deployed “to protect the people of Gambia and maintain sub-regional peace and security.” No violence has been reported.
State Department spokesman John KIrby says the U.S. supports the West African force “because we understand that the purpose is to help stabilize a tense situation and to try to observe the will of the people of Gambia.”
Kirby said the U.S. has no plans to send in any American troops.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council unanimously backed a Senegalese-drafted resolution condemning “in the strongest possible terms” attempts to prevent a peaceful and orderly transfer of power from Jammeh to Barrow.
Council president Olof Skoog, the Swedish ambassador, said he personally spoke to President Barrow to tell him he has the council’s full support.
“The resolution we have just adopted gives political endorsement by the Security Council to the commitment of (West African bloc) ECOWAS and the African Union to ensure that the outcome of the election is respected,” Skoog told reporters.
Skoog said the council’s message to Jammeh is that the will of the Gambian people and the Gambian constitution must be respected.
Council members Egypt, Uruguay and Bolivia stressed that the resolution in no way authorizes military force to install Barrow as president.
ECOWAS and the African Union Peace and Security Council have called in separate communiques for “all necessary measures” to be taken to respect the will of the Gambian people regarding the election outcome. In diplomatic language, that often means the use of military force.
Before he was sworn in Thursday, a jubilant Barrow said his country’s flag will “fly high among the most democratic nations of the world. The new era of Gambia is here at last. This is a day no Gambian will ever forget.”
This is the first time since Gambia became independent in 1965 that Gambians have changed their government through the ballot box.
The celebrations in the streets of Banjul began slowly because of the uncertainty and the presence of Gambian security forces. But the partying grew when it became clear the troops had no intention to use force.
Some shouted that the “dictator is out” and said they were thrilled they had the chance to do it at the ballot box.
But some were sad that because of Jammeh’s refusal to step down, the new president had to be sworn in in another country instead of the capital.
Barrow won the country’s December 1 election. Jammeh, who once vowed to rule Gambia for “a billion years,” initially accepted the results, but changed his mind citing alleged voting irregularities.
He has refused to give up power, declaring a state of emergency and ramming through a now meaningless three-month extension of his mandate through the parliament.
Amnesty International and other major human rights groups accuse Jammeh of having little tolerance for dissent. They say he has killed or jailed many opponents. He also has threatened to murder homosexuals and once ordered the kidnapping more than 1,000 villagers accused of being witches.
Margaret Besheer/ VOA