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20 January 2017

UN unanimously backs Gambia’s new president in standoff

United Nations (United States) (AFP) – The UN Security Council on Thursday unanimously backed regional efforts to ensure a handover of power in The Gambia, throwing its full weight behind newly-inaugurated President Adama Barrow in the escalating standoff.

The council adopted a resolution drafted by Senegal that expressed “full support” to the ECOWAS regional bloc as a first wave of Senegalese troops crossed the border into The Gambia.

The Economic Community Of West African States has repeatedly called on longtime leader Yahya Jammeh to accept defeat in the December 1 election and step down after 22 years in power.

The council demanded that Jammeh “carry out a peaceful and orderly transition process, and to transfer power” to Barrow, who was sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar.

It expressed “its full support to the ECOWAS in its commitment to ensure, by political means first, the respect of the will of the people.”

Russia and Egypt stressed that the resolution calls for peaceful means to resolve the standoff and that it does not invoke chapter 7 of the UN charter, which provides for the use of force.

Senegalese troops launched a military intervention after Barrow took the oath of office and demanded loyalty from Gambia’s military.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Barrow to express his “full support” after his inauguration as did Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog who, as council president, conveyed “the full support of the council behind him.”

Russia warned that military action could fail.

“For the time being, there is no bloodletting but if they intervene, who is going to take responsibility for that?” Russian Deputy Ambassador Petr Iliichev told reporters.

Military action

Nigeria and Ghana sent troops and air power to Senegal as part of a buildup of a Dakar-led regional force massed near the Gambian border.

“We are hoping that there is a peaceful resolution to this, but it is very clear that if President Barrow asks for assistance, then that is something that, as the legitimate president of Gambia, he is perfectly entitled to do,” said British Deputy Ambassador Peter Wilson.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the resolution sends a “clear message” to Jammeh who has refused to step down despite being offered “guarantees by his successor in line with his status as former president.”

The Security Council has recognized Barrow’s election victory as has the African Union.

Negotiations on the text focused on language that could be interpreted as a UN green light to military action.

Senegal had initially presented a draft authorizing ECOWAS to use “all necessary means” to ensure a transfer of power, but that was dropped during negotiations.

To win unanimous support from the council, Senegal agreed to include a reference to the using “political means first” to resolve the crisis.

The vote on the regional peace effort in The Gambia took place against the backdrop of crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi over elections.

In those cases, regional African organizations have failed to come up with decisive action to support democratic transitions, leaving the United Nations struggling to agree on a way forward.

By Carole LANDRY

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