The African Union said it will cease to recognise Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh as the country’s legitimate leader as of January 19, the date he is due to hand power to the winner of the December election, the AU’s Peace and Security Council said on Friday.
Jammeh, whose authoritarian rule began with a 1994 coup, lost the December 1 election to Adama Barrow by a slim margin. He initially conceded defeat but a week later contested the result and called for another poll. He now refuses to give up power.
In a statement issued after a meeting in the Ethiopian capital, the AU’s Peace and Security Council warned of “serious consequences” if Jammeh’s actions lead to political disorder and the “loss of innocent lives”. It calls on Gambia’s security forces to “exercise utmost restraint” leading up to the inauguration.
President-elect Barrow also called for direct talks with Jammeh to discuss the peaceful handover of power.
A delegation of West African officials including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ghana’s President John Mahama arrived in the capital Banjul on Friday.
They will try to persuade Jammeh on behalf of regional bloc ECOWAS to make an honourable exit, rather than risk dragging the country into crisis or civil war.
“Only God knows whether Jammeh will accept to step down,” Buhari said.
While ECOWAS has voiced its commitment to seeking a peaceful solution to the impasse, it has also hinted at possible military action if Jammeh stays on beyond the end of his term next week.
“This talk is very, very crucial because it is on the basis of this talk that everybody can now begin to see which option to take,” said Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, also part of the delegation.
Gambians are worried that the issue could escalate into a violent conflict, said Al Jazeera’s correspondent Nicolas Haque. They are currently fleeing to neighbouring Senegal.
Jammeh, a former coup leader who has ruled the country for 22 years, initially accepted his defeat by opposition figure, Barrow, in the December 1 election.
He later on contested the poll’s results, stating irregularities. His party then challenged the results in Gambia’s Supreme Court.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies