JUST IN: BARROW flees GAMBIA, moves to SENEGAL for safety ahead of JANUARY 19, fear of unrest pushes OTHERS across border into SENEGAL
Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow is now in neighbouring Senegal, a coalition member and local media said on Sunday, a day after West African leaders failed to persuade President Yahya Jammeh to step aside.
Barrow went with President Muhammadu Buhari to attend the Africa-France summit in Bamako, the Malian capital on Friday, from where he appeared to have moved to Senegal.
Barrow, a former real estate agent, won a Dec. 1 election in the former British colony by a slim margin.
Long-ruling Jammeh conceded defeat but then changed his mind, plunging one of West Africa’s tourist hot spots into crisis.
Barrow, backed by the West and the African Union, is due to be inaugurated on Jan. 19, although Jammeh is seeking to block this pending a Supreme Court ruling on his legal challenge to poll results.
“He (Barrow) is in Dakar. He will be back for the inauguration and we are mobilising the whole country for that,” said Isatou Toure, a member of Barrow’s coalition.
A spokesman for Senegal’s government was not immediately able to confirm his arrival which was also reported by state-owned news agency APS. Toure did not say why Barrow had gone to Dakar, although other supporters said he felt vulnerable given a lack of security.
The regional mediation mission to Banjul on Saturday, led by Nigeria’s President Buhari Muhammadu Buhari and Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was seen as the last attempt at a diplomatic resolution to the political impasse.
Talks with regional bloc ECOWAS in December had also failed.
The bloc will seek formal approval to send troops if Jammeh continues to refuse to step aside, U.N. Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohammed Ibn Chambas said earlier this week.
“His Excellency the President reiterated his position and that of The Gambia Government,” said a statement for Gambia’s President on the State House website after Saturday’s meeting.
Jammeh has cited irregularities in the polling process and is challenging the election results at Gambia’s Supreme Court.
But the court could not rule on his challenge this week because judges from Nigeria and Sierra Leone did not show up. The Supreme Court has indicated it may not be able to sit again until May.
Meanwhile the prolonged political uncertainty and fear of unrest has pushed thousands of Gambians across the border into neighbouring Senegal and further afield to Guinea-Bissau.
Tibna Sambe Na Wana, the national coordinator for Guinea-Bissau’s refugee commission, said more than 1,000 Gambians had crossed into the country, where they do not require a visa, in recent days.
“It is clear that the total number is far higher than a thousand and rising daily,” Na Wana said.
Women, children and the elderly made up the greatest numbers, the official said, with more than 500 passing one border post near the town of Jegue in three days.
“They say they are scared of a military escalation,” Na Wana added.
In Senegal, the UN’s refugee agency said “several thousand people” had crossed into the southern Casamance region from The Gambia, especially children.
Senegal and The Gambia have deep ethnic and linguistic ties, and most families have relatives living across the border.
“Most arrivals in Senegal are Gambians and Senegalese who have been working or living in The Gambia,” said Liz Ahua, UNHCR’s representative for West Africa in Dakar, but added Africans from several other nations were also crossing.
A nation of fewer than two million people, The Gambia already accounts for the highest number of migrants per capita of any nationality crossing the Mediterranean on smugglers’ boats to Italy.
The effects of the crisis were further scrutinised across the continent in Addis Ababa, where the African Union (AU) declared it would no longer recognise President Jammeh as head of state on January 19, regardless of the Supreme Court case.
Citing “the inviolable nature of the outcome of the presidential elections held on 1 December 2016 in The Gambia,” the AU called on Jammeh to respect the constitution and cede power to Barrow on that date.
Jammeh has said he wants to wait for the Supreme Court to sit and hear his case, but the Gambian Bar Association said Friday his term could not legally be extended except through a referendum altering the constitution.
The president has few allies and has faced almost universal condemnation for clinging to his post, though Nigerian House of Representatives said Thursday the country should consider offering him asylum.
*(AFP, NAN report.)