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Mauritania's President Tries to Intervene in Gambian Political Crisis

By Ken Schwartz, James Butty January 18, 2017

Mauritania's President Ould Abdel Aziz is making a last-minute effort to settle Gambia's political crisis without the need for military intervention.

Aziz held talks with outgoing President Yahya Jammeh, who has refused to give up power, then went to Senegal late Wednesday to meet with Gambia's President-elect Adama Barrow, who is set to be sworn in Thursday in the Gambian capital, Banjul.

However, Aziz told reporters he is "less positivistic" about a peaceful outcome after talks with both men.

Troops at the border

Troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are on the Senegalese border, ready to cross into Gambia if Jammeh still refuses to give up power.

Barrow won the December 1 election. Jammeh, who once vowed to rule Gambia for "a billion years," initially accepted the results but then changed his mind, citing alleged voting irregularities.

Liberia is the current ECOWAS chair. Liberian Information Minister Eugene Nagbe tells VOA that military force is always the last resort, but that all options are on the table.

Nagbe said Barrow won the election freely and fairly and that ECOWAS encourages Jammeh to respect the Gambian constitution.

"ECOWAS' position is very clear, that the mandate of the Gambian people ... as expressed in the election ... must be respected," Nagbe said. "On Thursday, President-elect Barrow will be inaugurated and he will be recognized not just by ECOWAS but also by the African Union and the rest of the world."

Gambian troops stand down

Gambian army chief Ousman Badjie told the French news agency Wednesday that his men will not resist other African forces if they cross the border.

"This is a political dispute," he said. "I am not going to involve my soldiers in a stupid fight."

With tension and uncertainly hanging thickly in the air, much of the Gambian capital of Banjul was deserted Wednesday. Some tourists boarded special flights out of the country and crowded onto ferries to neighboring Senegal, but other remained behind at resort hotels.

Jammeh, who had seized power in a 1994 coup, retained his office in a series of elections until last month's ballot.

Many Gambians say they are more than ready for a change in leadership.

Amnesty International and other major human-rights groups accuse Jammeh of having little tolerance for dissent; they say he has killed or jailed many opponents.

He also has threatened to murder homosexuals, and once ordered the kidnapping more than 1,000 villagers accused of being witches. They were forced to drink a vile liquid that sickened them.

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