Gambia's defence chief won't fight, supports Barrow

2017-01-20 20:16


Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Banjul - Gambia's chief of defence forces pledged his allegiance to the country's new president Friday, a major shift as mediation continued to persuade the defeated Yahya Jammeh to cede power.

Ousmane Badjie told The Associated Press the country's security services all support the newly inaugurated Adama Barrow and said they would not fight a regional force that was poised to push out Jammeh if talks failed.

"You cannot push us to war for an issue we can solve politically," Badjie said. "We don't see any reason to fight."

Without Gambia's security forces and his Cabinet dissolved, Jammeh was increasingly isolated as the last-minute talks continued at his official residence in the capital, Banjul, with the leaders of Guinea and Mauritania.

Adama Barrow, who was elected president last month, was sworn in on Thursday, and the UN Security Council voted unanimously to approve the regional military intervention.

The inauguration took place at the Gambian Embassy in neighbouring Senegal for Barrow's safety.

The West African regional force, including tanks, moved in during the evening without facing any resistance, said Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the West African regional bloc, Ecowas.

At least 20 military vehicles were seen on Friday at the border town of Karang.

The regional force included troops from Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Mali, and they moved in after Barrow's inauguration and the UN vote.

Guinean President Alpha Conde arrived in Banjul with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

Mauritania has been mentioned as a possible home in exile for Jammeh.

After a first round of talks, they broke for Friday prayers and resumed.

Conde will offer Jammeh the chance to step down peacefully, de Souza said.

Jammeh "has the choice of going with President Alpha Conde," he said, but if that fails, "we will bring him by force or by will."

Jammeh began negotiations on Thursday with Ecowas and agreed to step down, but demanded amnesty for any crimes he may have committed during his 22 years in power and wanted to stay in Gambia, in his home village of Kanilai, de Souza said.

Those demands are not acceptable to Ecowas, he added.

Jammeh's continued presence in Gambia would "create disturbances to public order and terrorist movements," said de Souza. Ecowas wants Barrow to take power in Gambia without any security threats, said de Souza.

At a news conference in Nouakchott before leaving for Gambia, Abdel Aziz said he would "never understand" why Jammeh backed off from his initial pledge to accept defeat and step down, Mauritanian state media reported.

In his inaugural speech, which took place under heavy security, Barrow urged Jammeh to respect the will of the people and step aside.

He also called for Gambia's armed forces to stay in their barracks.

Some of Gambia's diplomatic missions have begun switching their allegiance.

"We embrace and support the new president Adama Barrow," said Almamy Kassama, an official at the Gambian mission to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in an email.

The US supported the regional force's intervention and was in touch with officials in Senegal, said State Department spokesperson John Kirby, adding that he didn't have tactical information, but "obviously, it's very, very tense."

Senegalese radio station RFM reported 30 Gambian soldiers had crossed into Senegal to fight alongside the regional forces.

"I think the Gambian military would know it's outnumbered," said Maggie Dwyer, an expert on West African armed forces at the University of Edinburgh. "Gambia's military has very little combat experience. This would be a very difficult situation for them."

She estimated it had 2 400 troops at most, plus fewer than 1 000 paramilitary forces.

"My guess is a very small number would actually put their life on the line for Jammeh," though some could stand by him to get the same deal he might receive to avoid prosecution, Dwyer said.

Soldiers at checkpoints in Banjul appeared relaxed, with one telling visitors, "Welcome to the smiling coast."

Other nations have begun stepping away from Jammeh, with the African Union saying the continental body no longer recognises him.

About 45 000 people have fled Gambia for Senegal, fearing violence, according to the Senegalese government and the UN refugee agency.

About two-thirds are children accompanied by women, the UN said.

Only about a few thousand international tourists are believed to still be in Gambia, and efforts continued to evacuate them.

Read more on:    ecowas  |  un  |  yahya jammeh  |  adama barrow  |  gambia  |  gambia 2016 elections  |  west africa

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.