Gambia’s long time ruler Yahya Jammeh, who refused to accept his election defeat last month, has agreed to go into exile, a senior adviser to new President Adama Barrow said on Friday, but talks to finalise the deal were holding up his exit.
Regional armies, who entered Gambia late on Thursday, were meanwhile poised to remove him by force if required, as even his army chief, who had stood beside the former coup leader, recognised his rival Barrow as commander-in-chief.
West African leaders Alpha Conde of Guinea and Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz travelled to the capital Banjul on Friday to allow Jammeh one last chance to cede power peacefully.
“I can assure you that he has agreed to leave,” Mai Ahmad Fatty, Barrow’s special advisor, told Reuters in Senegal’s capital Dakar. He could not say where Jammeh would go into exile.
Barrow, who won the December 1 poll by a slim margin, was sworn into office at Gambia’s embassy in Dakar on Thursday and immediately called for regional and international support. West African militaries announced soon after that they had crossed into Gambia, which is almost completely surrounded by Senegal.
“The rule of fear has been banished from Gambia for good,” Barrow told a crowd gathered at a Dakar hotel on Friday.
“To all of you forced by political circumstances to flee our country, you now have the liberty to return home.”
Gambia’s army chief General Ousman Badjie, who had been perhaps the last remaining pillar of support for Jammeh, said he would welcome, not fight, the regional force.
“We are going to welcome them with flowers and make them a cup of tea,” he told Reuters.
“This is a political problem. It’s a misunderstanding. We are not going to fight Nigerian, Togolese or any military that comes.”
The military operation was halted late on Thursday to give mediation a chance. A midday deadline was extended on Friday as negotiations, which diplomats said were focusing on a deal that would grant Jammeh immunity from prosecution, continued.
– By REUTERS