West African armies halted an operation in Gambia aimed at installing the country’s new president, Adama Barrow, on Thursday so regional leaders could make one last attempt to convince longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh to step aside.
Barrow took the oath of office on Thursday at Gambia’s embassy in Senegal, calling for international support from West Africa’s ECOWAS bloc, the African Union and the United Nations.
A regional military force launched an intervention effort,dubbed Operation Restore Democracy, shortly after the former opposition figure was sworn in. “We think that up until the last minute there is still a solution through dialogue,” said Marcel de Souza, head of the ECOWAS commission, explaining the decision to suspend the advance to reporters in Dakar late on Thursday.
During his inauguration speech Barrow appealed to ECOWAS,the African Union and the United Nations for support for his government and Gambia’s people. “This is a day no Gambian will ever forget,”
Barrow said after taking the oath, which was administered by the president of Gambia’s bar association. “Our national flag will now fly high among the most democratic nations of the world.”
Jammeh, in power since a 1994 coup, initially conceded defeat to Barrow following a December 1 election before back-tracking, saying the vote was flawed.
De Souza said a total of 7 000 troops from Senegal, Nigeria,Ghana, Togo and Mali would be involved in the operation. Troops had already entered Gambia from the southeast, southwest and north before they were ordered to stop. The advance will resume at noon on Friday if Jammeh still refused to leave, he said.
Barrow will return to Gambia once the operation is over. The UN Security Council on Thursday backed ECOWAS’s efforts to ensure Barrow assumes power, and the United States said it supported the intervention.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement pledged “his full support for his (Barrow’s) determination, and ECOWAS’s historic decision, with the unanimous backing of the Security Council, to restore the rule of law in The Gambia so as to honour and respect the will of the Gambian people.”
ECOWAS and the African Union previously said they would recognise Barrow from Thursday, and nations including the United Kingdom and France were quick to congratulate him.
– By REUTERS