West African troops secure crisis-hit Gambia for new president
by Compiled from Wire Services
ISTANBULJan 24, 2017 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Compiled from Wire Services
Jan 24, 2017 12:00 am
West African regional military force entered the capital city of Banjul and took control of the presidential palace, the symbolic seat of the former President Yahya Jammeh's 22-year rule. Jammeh, who refused to accept defeat to opposition challenger Adama Barrow in a December election, flew out of Banjul late on Saturday en route to Equatorial Guinea as the regional force was poised to remove him.
Senegalese army officials said the force, which also includes troops from Nigeria, Ghana and Mali, met no resistance as they advanced on Sunday.
The regional military operation was first launched late on Thursday after Barrow was sworn in as president at Gambia's embassy in neighbouring Senegal, but it was halted hours later to give Jammeh one last chance to leave peacefully.
His departure followed two days of negotiations led by Guinea President Alpha Conde and Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, prompting speculation over what, if any, terms were agreed upon to convince him to step down. "He wanted to stay in Gambia," Barrow said. "We said we couldn't guarantee his security and said that he should leave."
Barrow denied that Jammeh had been offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for leaving the country.
Earlier in the day, the African Union and United Nations published a document on behalf of these two organisations and regional bloc ECOWAS.
In it, they pledged, among other things, to protect Jammeh's rights "as a citizen, a party leader and a former Head of State," to prevent the seizure of property belonging to him and his allies, and to ensure he can eventually return to Gambia.
Barrow said the document had not been signed and did not constitute a binding agreement. He also said he planned to return to Gambia soon but did not say when.
Jammeh's loss in the Dec. 1 poll and his initial acceptance of the result were celebrated across the tiny nation by Gambians grown weary of his increasingly authoritarian rule. He reversed his position a week later.
In a video clip posted on social media that a United Nations official confirmed was filmed shortly before his departure from Gambia, Jammeh thanked Conde, seen standing beside him, as a "true friend." "Allah has decided that this is the end my time," he said. "When you are inflicted by something that you are not happy with, don't move away from Allah, but thank Allah because he is testing you."
Thousands of Gambians sought asylum abroad over the years. An additional 45,000 people fled to Senegal amid growing fears of unrest in the wake of last month's election, according to the UN Refugee Agency. In the statement, the agency said many people were continuing to flee the country because the situation there remained critical. "Around 75 percent of the arrivals are children, mostly accompanied by women. "Arrivals in Senegal have been a mix of Gambians, Senegalese, bi-nationals, as well as Ghanaians, Liberians, Lebanese, Guineans, and Mauritanians among other foreigners. In addition, at least 800 people have crossed into Guinea-Bissau," the statement said.
Hundreds of Gambians carrying sacks, suitcases and cooking pots began returning by ferry from Senegal's Casamance region on Sunday.