Monday 29 May 2017

Gambian defence chief pledges allegiance to new president

ECOWAS soldiers are seen in a camp at the border of Gambia in Karang, Senegal , January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon
ECOWAS soldiers are seen in a camp at the border of Gambia in Karang, Senegal , January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon
An ECOWAS soldier runs after a onlooker at the border of Gambia in Karang, Senegal , January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon
ECOWAS soldiers are seen in a camp at the border of Gambia in Karang, Senegal , January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon
ECOWAS soldiers are seen in a camp at the border of Gambia in Karang, Senegal , January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon
Senegal soldiers providing security at their gathering point on the Gambia boarder with Senegal at the town of Karang, Senegal, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui)

Carley Petesch and Babacar Dione

Yahya Jammeh has agreed to cede power to new leader, Senegalese government official says.

The chief of Gambia's defence forces has also pledged his allegiance to the country's new president in a major shift.

Ousmane Badjie said the country's security services all support the newly inaugurated Adama Barrow and would not fight a regional force poised to push out Jammeh if talks fail.

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

An ECOWAS soldier runs after a onlooker at the border of Gambia in Karang, Senegal , January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon
An ECOWAS soldier runs after a onlooker at the border of Gambia in Karang, Senegal , January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

Earlier, without Gambia's security forces and his cabinet dissolved, Jammeh was becoming 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 Thursday, and the UN Security Council voted unanimously to approve the regional military intervention.

ECOWAS soldiers are seen in a camp at the border of Gambia in Karang, Senegal , January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon
ECOWAS soldiers are seen in a camp at the border of Gambia in Karang, Senegal , January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

The inauguration took place at the Gambian embassy in neighbouring Senegal for Mr 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 at the border town of Karang.

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

Guinean President Alpha Conde arrived in Banjul with Mauritanian counterpart Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Mauritania has been mentioned as a possible home in exile for Jammeh.

ECOWAS soldiers are seen in a camp at the border of Gambia in Karang, Senegal , January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon
ECOWAS soldiers are seen in a camp at the border of Gambia in Karang, Senegal , January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

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

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

Senegal soldiers providing security at their gathering point on the Gambia boarder with Senegal at the town of Karang, Senegal, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui)
Senegal soldiers providing security at their gathering point on the Gambia boarder with Senegal at the town of Karang, Senegal, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui)

Jammeh "has the choice of going with President Alpha Conde", 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, Mr de Souza said, adding that those demands are not acceptable to Ecowas.

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

At a news conference in Nouakchott before leaving for Gambia, Mr 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, Mr 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.

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

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.

A few thousand international tourists are believed to still be in Gambia, and efforts continue to evacuate them.

Press Association

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