“I’m not going to involve my soldiers in a stupid fight”—Jammeh’s Army Chief
Senegalese troops backed by other African forces are poised to enter The Gambia Thursday (today) following President Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to leave office, ignoring a midnight deadline to stand down or face military action.
Jammeh’s mandate ended at midnight (local and GMT) but he has steadfastly refused to leave office after losing elections last month to Adama Barrow, prompting west African states to ramp up pressure on the president following weeks of failed diplomacy.
Nigeria sent troops and fighter jets to Senegal, whose own forces massed on the Gambian border.
Witnesses said the situation was calm in Banjul overnight, although troops had been deployed in the city.
The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet Thursday to adopt a statement on West Africa that will reaffirm the demand for Jammeh to hand over power, diplomats said.
“If a political solution fails, we will engage” in operations in The Gambia, Senegal army spokesman Colonel Abdou Ndiaye told AFP ahead of the deadline.
Unsuccessful attempts by the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) led Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to fly into Banjul at the 11th hour for a final round of talks.
Following the discussions he was hopeful of reaching a peaceful solution, he was quoted as saying by Gambian state broadcaster GRTS.
Mauritania is not part of ECOWAS and diplomats have previously reached out to the conservative desert nation in hopes of brokering an asylum deal with Jammeh.
Shortly before midnight Aziz’s plane landed in Dakar, where he was met by Barrow — who is currently sheltering there — and Senegal’s President Macky Sall, the private Senegalese radio station RFM reported.
Senegal has also requested UN backing for regional action against the long-time president. However, a vote on the draft resolution has yet to be scheduled, according to diplomats.
State of emergency
Barrow and his team maintain his inauguration will go ahead on Thursday (today) on Gambian soil, and his spokesman said late Wednesday “we do not feel any threat” from Senegalese troops on the ground.
However, the inauguration’s head organiser James Gomez said plans for the transfer of power in a huge stadium outside the capital were now cancelled.
The 51-year-old Gambian leader announced a state of emergency on Tuesday, saying it was necessary because of interference from foreign powers in the country’s December 1 election, but the declaration has had little effect on attempts to remove him.
The country’s vice-president Isatou Njie-Saidy resigned Wednesday, family sources said, along with the environment and higher education ministers, in the latest of a string of cabinet members deserting Jammeh’s government.
Gambia troops will not fight intervention
Meanwhile, Gambia’s army chief said Wednesday he would not order his men to fight other African troops if they enter Gambian territory, speaking as Senegalese and other troops massed on his nation’s borders.
“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, stopping to pose for selfies with admirers while dressed in fatigues, beret and green t-shirt, according to those present.
“If they (Senegalese) come in, we are here like this,” Badjie said, making a hands up to surrender gesture.
Badjie is no stranger to controversy after appearing to declare support for president-elect Adama Barrow and then switching back to Jammeh.
He was recently barred from visiting Gambian peacekeepers in Darfur due to the sensitivity of The Gambia’s ongoing political crisis, which has seen Jammeh repeatedly refuse to step down despite losing a December 1 election to opponent Barrow.
“Our troops are on alert… The ultimatum takes effect at midnight,” when Jammeh’s mandate is due to expire, Senegal army spokesman Colonel Abdou Ndiaye told AFP ahead of the deadline.