Military intervention to end Gambia impasse draws closer

Military intervention to end Gambia impasse draws closer

West African leaders take steps to dislodge Jammeh when mandate ends on Wednesday

Military intervention to end Gambia impasse draws closer
Yahya Jammeh with ink on his finger after voting in the presidential election in December in which he was defeated © AP
West African leaders are stepping up plans for a military intervention in Gambia to enforce the result of December’s election after weeks of failed efforts to persuade president Yahya Jammeh to give up power.

Nigeria, which is playing a lead role in efforts to deal with Mr Jammeh, has asked Britain to train 800 Nigerian troops as part of a joint force, said a source familiar with the matter. The president’s mandate expires at midnight on Wednesday. Premium Times, a Nigerian news website, reported earlier that the Nigerian army had ordered more than 800 soldiers to report for potential deployment in a regional force to Gambia.

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Nigeria training soldiers for operations against Boko Haram militants in the north-east. An intervention would not require UN approval if launched after Mr Jammeh’s mandate expires, said western diplomats who are following a crisis viewed as a test of west Africa’s commitment to democracy.

Adama Barrow, who defeated Mr Jammeh in the freest polls in the tiny nation’s history, attended an African summit in Mali at the weekend and met Francois Hollande, the French president, who said that “everything must be done so that . . . effectively by January 19, [Mr Barrow] can take office”.

Mr Barrow then went to Dakar, where Macky Sall, the Senegalese president, will host him “until his inauguration”, Agence France-Presse reported on Sunday.

A regional delegation led by Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, visited Banjul, Gambia’s capital, last Friday for the second time in the four weeks since Mr Jammeh reversed his pledge to respect the outcome of the election that he lost. The meeting did not produce a public commitment from the unpredictable leader, who seized power by coup in 1994.

On Saturday in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, chief of defence staff, hosted military commanders from the 15-member Economic Community of West African States, according to the Nigerian military’s website. The generals met “as part of efforts to mitigate the political impasse in Gambia”, it said.

Ecowas nations deployed troops to Sierra Leone about two decades ago, during the brutal civil war there, and again in 2002 in Ivory Coast after a civil war began there. West Africa has seen a string of democratic transitions in recent years, most notably in Nigeria in 2015. The last time an electoral result was challenged by an incumbent was in 2011 in Ivory Coast, where French forces intervened after Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept the victory Alassane

Ouattara, now president. Since Friday’s meeting in Banjul, other top African diplomats have heaped public pressure on Mr Jammeh. “The Ecowas region represents a good example of democracy in Africa,” Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chair of the African Union Commission, said in a tweet on Saturday.

“When the people have spoken, that should be respected.” The AU’s Peace and Security Council said in a statement the organisation will no longer recognise Mr Jammeh as president once his term ends. It warned of “serious consequences in the event that his action causes any crisis that could lead to political disorder [and] humanitarian and human rights disaster”.

Garba Shehu, Nigeria’s presidential spokesman, said he had no information about the request to Britain to help train Nigerian troops. Geoffrey Onyeama, foreign minister, had billed talks between Mr Buhari and Mr Jammeh as crucial to understanding “which option” Ecowas would pursue in coming days.