Gambia’s Jammeh stares down deadline to quit

BANJUL: Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh faced a “last chance saloon” deadline to step down as troops from five African nations stood by for action and key regional leaders flew in to make a final plea.
Mauritania’s Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Guinea’s Alpha Conde told reporters hope remained for a political resolution to the country’s handover crisis as they left for Banjul from Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital.
“We still have every chance for a peaceful solution,” Aziz said. “We have every interest in achieving that, we have enough conflicts in Africa going on without adding another.” Conde said a political solution “must be found” before boarding their flight.
The pair were due in Banjul as troops already inside The Gambia postponed military intervention to give Jammeh, who was defeated in elections last month, a final chance to leave the presidency and the country quietly.
A previously announced noon (1200 GMT) deadline was expected to be extended to give the two leaders, who took off for Banjul after 1100 GMT, enough time to meet Jammeh.
The pair are long-term allies of the Gambian strongman, who has had more prickly relations with other west African leaders during the post-election crisis these last weeks.
Diplomats in Banjul had confirmed the last-ditch peace push, with one describing a “last chance saloon” moment before foreign troops led by Senegal remove Jammeh by force.
Jammeh has rejected President Adama Barrow’s December 1 election win, despite significant pressure from regional powers and the UN, sparking a major crisis and sending tourists — vital for the tiny country’s economy — fleeing. In Conakry, minister and Conde adviser Kiridi Bangoura said Jammeh would be offered asylum in the country of his choice.
Barrow, who was sworn in at The Gambia’s Embassy in Dakar on Thursday, remained in Senegal awaiting the outcome of the talks, with hopes of taking over the reins of state from Jammeh as soon as his safety could be guaranteed.
He hailed a “victory of the Gambian nation” and demanded loyalty from his armed forces at his inauguration.
An imminent military operation was suspended late on Thursday to allow a final diplomatic push to convince Jammeh, who has ruled the former British colony since seizing power in a 1994 coup, to leave the country. “We have suspended operations and given him an ultimatum,” said Marcel Alain de Souza, head of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
“If by midday, he doesn’t agree to leave The Gambia… we really will intervene militarily,” he added, but this looked likely to lapse with Aziz and Conde’s late arrival.
The United Nations refugee agency said around 45,000 had fled The Gambia so far, with more than 75 per cent of those being sent out children, largely accompanied by women.
“They are staying with family members, host families or in hotels. Some families are hosting up to 40 to 50 people and will soon need support as they may quickly run out of resources,” a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report said. —AFP