West African forces ready for Gambia intervention as leader’s mandate ends
BANJULWest African troops were ready to intervene in Gambia on Jan. 19 after President Yahya Jammeh’s mandate expired and overnight talks to convince him to stand down failed.
Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow was set to be sworn into office on Jan. 19 at the Gambian embassy in neighboring Senegal, while there was no word from Jammeh.
“It is going to take place at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, they have changed the venue, at 4:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. GMT),” spokesman Halifa Sallah said.
Senegal has deployed hundreds of soldiers to its shared border with Gambia, Ghana said it was sending troops to Gambia and Nigeria has pre-positioned war planes and helicopters after regional bloc ECOWAS said it would remove Jammeh if he did not hand over power to challenger Barrow, who won an election in early December last year.
Gambia’s capital, Banjul, was quiet overnight and on the morning of Jan. 19 as military helicopters flew overhead and police trucks patrolled largely empty streets.
Jammeh’s army chief said his troops would not fight their entry into the country.
“We are not going to involve ourselves militarily. This is a political dispute,” Chief of Defence Staff Ousman Badjie said after eating dinner in a tourist district close to the capital Banjul, eyewitnesses told AFP.
“I am not going to involve my soldiers in a stupid fight. I love my men,” he added. “If they [Senegalese] come in, we are here like this,” Badjie said, making a hands up or surrender gesture.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz led last ditch talks with Jammeh in Banjul on Jan. 18 before meeting Senegal’s President Macky Sall and Barrow in Dakar overnight.
It was unclear what Jammeh’s next move would be. The veteran leader faces almost total diplomatic isolation and a government that has all but collapsed from defections. Both ECOWAS and the African Union have said they will recognize Barrow as president from Jan. 19.