World Bulletin / News Desk
Gambia's new president declared late Friday that "the rule of fear" had ended, while word emerged that longtime leader Yahya Jammeh was finally stepping aside under the threat of a regional military offensive.
In neighboring Senegal, where Adama Barrow has sought refuge after winning last month's presidential election, a government official confirmed that Jammeh had agreed to leave. But at the airport in Gambia's capital, Banjul, officials rolled up the red carpet leading to the plane that had signaled a possible departure.
Jammeh has refused to accept his loss to Barrow, who was inaugurated Thursday at Gambia's embassy in Senegal. The leaders of Guinea and Mauritania met with Jammeh on Friday to try to persuade him to cede power.
The Senegalese government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to talk to reporters, said final arrangements for the agreement with Jammeh were still being worked out.
Jammeh, who first seized power in a 1994 coup, has offered to step aside once before during the current crisis — only to change his mind later.
He has been holed up in his official residence in Banjul, and was becoming increasingly isolated as his security forces abandoned him and he dissolved his Cabinet.
Defense forces chief Ousmane Badjie told The Associated Press that Gambia's security services now support Barrow and would not oppose the regional force that was poised to move against Jammeh if he refused to step down.
"You cannot push us to war for an issue we can solve politically," Badjie said. "We don't see any reason to fight."
The force, including tanks, rolled into Gambia without facing any resistance, said Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS. At least 20 military vehicles were seen Friday at the border town of Karang.
The force included troops from Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Mali, and they moved in after Barrow's inauguration and a unanimous vote by the U.N. Security Council to support the regional efforts.
Fearing violence, about 45,000 people have fled Gambia for Senegal, according to the Senegalese government and the U.N. refugee agency.
Jammeh met Friday with President Alpha Conde of Guinea and President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, which has been mentioned as a possible home in exile for Jammeh.
Jammeh "has the choice of going with President Alpha Conde," de Souza said, but if that fails, "we will bring him by force or by will."
Jammeh had 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 were not acceptable to ECOWAS, he added.
In his inaugural speech, Barrow urged Jammeh to step aside and called for Gambia's armed forces to stay in their barracks.
Some of Gambia's diplomatic missions began switching their allegiance, while some African nations announced they no longer recognized Jammeh.
"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.
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."
Late Friday, Barrow addressed members of Gambia's diaspora and urged them to return home and rebuild their lives. "I wish to congratulate all of you and welcome you to the new Gambia," he said.Last Mod: 21 Ocak 2017, 01:25