Thousands of troops from Senegal entered Gambia on Thursday, while the UN Security Council has backed an effort
by regional states to remove Jammeh as president.
The Commission of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, has given Jammeh until noon Friday to step aside in favor of new President Adama Barrow or face being forcibly removed.
“If at noon he doesn’t accept to leave Gambia, the troops will intervene militarily to remove him by force so we can install the new President with all his powers in accordance with the Gambian Constitution,” Marcel A. de Souza, the commission’s president, told Reuters.
“By land, sea and air, Gambia is surrounded. A total of 7,000 men will participate in the mission to re-establish democracy in Gambia.”
New President sworn in
Jammeh, who took power in a 1994 military coup, suffered a surprise election defeat in December to Barrow, who won 45% of the vote. Jammeh originally conceded the presidency but then announced his “total rejection of the election results.”
Barrow was sworn in Thursday in Senegal.
Around 45,000 people have reportedly arrived in Senegal from Gambia amid the turmoil, the UN refugee agency said Friday, citing the Senegalese government.
The United Nations called on “all stakeholders, within and outside the Gambia, to exercise restraint, respect the rule of law and ensure the peaceful transfer of power.”
Senegal, Ghana, Togo and Mali are among the West African countries contributing to the military effort, while the Nigerian air force said 200 of its troops would join forces from ECOWAS.
Talks to urge Jammeh to leave
Two West African leaders and a UN representative are planning to meet Friday with Jammeh to convince him to step down peacefully, an official on the longtime ruler’s team told CNN.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, special representative of the UN secretary-general and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, has been a key figure in talks by regional leaders to convince Jammeh to leave, the official said.
The Guinean and Mauritanian presidents are also expected in Gambia soon, the official added.
An African Union statement Friday welcomed Barrow’s swearing-in as the legitimate president and expressed “the readiness of the AU to work closely with the new Gambian authorities to promote peace, security, stability and reconciliation in their country.”
The South African government also called upon Jammeh to step down peacefully.
Leader in waiting
Barrow has been waiting in Senegal — which surrounds Gambia — for the handover of power. In his first speech as leader, he hailed the “victory of the Gambian nation.”
“Our national flag will now fly high,” he said Thursday. “Violence is finished forever from the life of the Gambians. There is no loser in this election. We promise to unify our people. Today most Gambians are united in order to give Gambia a new start. Today I am the President of all Gambians.”
He pledged to “respect the rule of law and fundamental freedoms” and promised “significant democratic reform.”
And he called on the country’s military to remain loyal: “I command all members of the armed forces to remain in their barracks. Those found wanting, or in possession of firearms, without my order, shall be considered rebels.”
Barrow’s spokesman, Halifa Sallah, said the military “will have to decide which side they are on.”
Maj. Gen. Ousman Badjie, defense chief of the Gambian armed forces, told CNN he now considers Barrow the commander in chief.
Save the Children warned of the danger of a humanitarian emergency as people fled their homes.
“These children are largely fleeing to parts of both Gambia and Senegal where public services such as health facilities and schools are already under a great deal of strain,” said Bonzi Mathurin, Save the Children’s Senegal country director.
In a statement on its website, tour operator Thomas Cook said it was “working hard to get our UK customers home” and it expected to fly about 3,500 vacationers out of Gambia by the end of Friday.
British tourist Sara Wilkins, 44, told CNN she and her husband arrived in Gambia nearly a week ago and noticed a lot of military on the streets. She said they had not been able to leave their hotel in recent days.
Wilkins said she had witnessed “manic” scenes at the airport and at the hotel, where “everyone was panicking and crying.”
The UK warned that “potential for military intervention and civil disturbance is high and could result in Banjul International Airport being closed on short notice.”