West Africa Nations Plan Force to Oust Gambian Leader Jammeh

  • Jammeh must quit Thursday when Barrow inaugurated: Ecowas
  • Gambian leader refused to agree to step down after vote loss

West African nations plan to send troops to Gambia to force President Yahya Jammeh from office if he doesn’t step down following his loss in a presidential election last month, said a military official from the region.

The winner of the vote, Adama Barrow, who’s in neighboring Senegal, said in a statement Monday that the inauguration will take place Thursday “on Gambian territory.” If Jammeh doesn’t step down after that, the Economic Community of West African States could take military action, said the military official, who declined to be identified because he’s not authorized to comment.

Jammeh, who’s ruled Gambia since a coup in 1994, surprised the nation of less than 2 million people by acknowledging he lost the Dec. 1 vote to opposition leader Barrow, only to change his mind a week later and file a petition to challenge the outcome. Gambia’s chief justice, Emmanuel Fagbenle, on Monday refused to rule on a petition by Jammeh to hear his objections to his election defeat. Regional heads of state including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari met with Jammeh last week but failed to persuade him to stand down.

“Ecowas has pretty much exhausted all other possibilities -- they’ve been trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution -- and now it’s going to have to call Jammeh’s bluff and intervene militarily,” Sean Smith, West Africa analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said by phone from Bath, U.K. “A last-minute deal is not to be ruled out, but Jammeh seems defiant to the end.”

Gambians Flee

The African Union has said it will no longer recognize Jammeh as president as of Thursday. Foreign Minister Neneh Macdouall-Gaye resigned Monday, according to Isatou Njie, an official at the Attorney General’s office in the capital, Banjul.

Gambians and some foreigners are fleeing the capital. Gambia has an 80-kilometer (50-mile) coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, while the rest of the country is surrounded by Senegal.

“I am leaving for Kaolack, Senegal, to live with my relatives there because Gambia is not safe for now,” Fatou Manneh said at the ferry terminal in Banjul.

At the capital’s main bus depot, Mamusu Trawally said he was leaving for his home village in the Upper River region.

“I believe this place is the center of the quarrel between Jammeh and the opposition and this place is not safe,” he said in an interview.

Ecowas’s previous interventions include its decision to send 600 troops to Guinea Bissau following a coup in April 2012. The troops are due to be withdrawn this year.

The regional group also sent soldiers to Ivory Coast in 2002, when a failed coup split the country into a rebel north and a government-run south. The troops were deployed to patrol the dividing line between the warring parties and were later redeployed as UN troops.

“Jammeh is completely isolated diplomatically and has little popular legitimacy in Gambia,” Smith said. “If Ecowas mobilizes a force from its member states, it should have no problem overpowering the Gambian forces.”

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