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Africa

Interview: Gambia urging deployment of more Senegalese troops, says President Barrow

media French President Francois Hollande (L) shakes hands with Gambian President Adama Barrow at the Élysée Palace on 15 March 2017. Photo: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP

The Gambian government has requested that Senegal deploy an extra 1,000 soldiers as part of the regional military force in the country, Gambian President Adama Barrow told RFI in an interview on Wednesday. Barrow met with French President Francois Hollande during a two-day visit to Paris this week that focused on obtaining financial support for Gambia.

“We are demanding 1,000 soldiers from Senegal to increase the numbers to make sure we are in a secure position,” said President Barrow, in reference to a security treaty the two neighbouring countries recently signed.

Interview: President Adama Barrow

Senegalese military units originally entered Gambia a day after former President Yahya Jammeh left the country following a lengthy impasse over the country’s election results. The troops were deployed under the mandate of regional bloc Ecowas over fears that Jammeh’s supporters could destabilise the country.

“We want them in the country as long as we feel necessary,” said the Gambian president, who is concerned that the current deployment of troops is too small. “500 is on the low side, that's why we have signed a security treaty with Senegal.”

“Twenty-two years is a long time, he still has influence, he has his friends in Gambia. We need the Senegalese to stabilise that security situation so that we can reform, train our military. This is very important because we cannot do this if the government doesn't have enough security,” said Barrow.

The Ecowas force upon its arrival in the country immediately secured State House in Banjul and took up several positions across the country including at Jammeh’s former residence in Kanilai. However, Barrow denied suggestions that not yet taking up occupancy of State House had anything to do with security.

“All military arsenal has been recovered and is under the control of Ecowas. State House needs maintenance and now we are working on that maintenance - the Chinese government has offered to help us,” said Barrow, adding that he would move to the seat of the presidency once the work was finished.

Barrow said his country would no longer “support rebellion in any country”, when questioned about Jammeh’s reported support of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) rebel group in the past. Casamance is a province in southern Senegal that has groups that have previously fought for secession.

“Anything that happens in Senegal, it affects Gambia, anything that happens in Gambia, it affects Senegal,” said Barrow. “The peace in Casamance is fundamental, it’s important and I think we are ready to be part of that process,” he added.

Justice for the victims of Jammeh’s regime

Barrow has already vowed to set up a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with possible crimes committed under longtime leader Jammeh. “Everybody is the same, we don't want the Animal Farm system where some people are [more] equal than others,” said Barrow, quoting George Orwell’s satire on totalitarianism.

“They will get justice, everybody is under the law, nobody is above the law. We have started the process - the court process has started with some who commit[ted] those crimes,” said Barrow, when asked about a document circulated before Jammeh’s departure purportedly offering the strongman immunity.

The joint declaration by the UN, African Union and Ecowas regional bloc on 21 January had appeared to offer a degree of safety from prosecution for Jammeh, his family, cabinet members, government officials, members of security forces and party members.

Barrow did not rule out taking a case against Jammeh to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, ironically an institution that Jammeh tried to pull the country out of. “It depends on if it is necessary - we will make these enquiries, get our comprehensive report, know the truth and make a decision,” said Barrow.

The Gambian president also said his country had asked for help from US government intelligence services for investigations into certain cases such as the killing of journalist Deyda Hydra in 2004.

“We will know one day, we are close to knowing what has happened,” said Barrow, referring to the murder of The Point editor, a longstanding critic of Jammeh’s government. “We need international support, we are even seeking support from the Americans so that we can establish these cases. There will be justice one day - there will be no peace without justice.”

Barrow spent two days in Paris and met with several French ministers including foreign affairs, international development, defence, economy and finance, according to a joint statement from the Élysée Palace.

“To respond to Gambia’s economic challenges, France - in the context of the European Union, the institutions of the UN and Bretton Woods – supports the mobilisation of donors to support the economic and financial programme of the new Gambian authorities,” the statement read.

“The European Union came to Banjul and they promised to give us some support,” said Barrow. “They will give us 60 million [euros] for budget support and France's government is very positive that they are ready to help in financing, they are committed to that. So we are pretty sure both France and the EU will help to bail out Gambia.”

The Gambian president said Hollande played an important part in helping to resolve the impasse with Jammeh. “He played a personal role because he gave a speech and there was a strong message for the Gambia,” said Barrow, talking about Hollande’s address at the France-Africa summit in Mali on 14 January.

“He wanted Yahya Jammeh to respect the verdict of the Gambian people, he made it very clear. When he saw me at the hall he shook my hand and said, 'you are the president on the 19th [January]' - so it was very clear,” said Barrow.

France and Gambia have agreed to develop their cooperation regarding the training of Gambian security forces, the Élysée statement said. A seminar on transitional justice will also be organised by the Alliance Franco-Gambienne group highlighting the importance of justice and reconciliation.

Barrow originally said he would stick to a three-year transitional term in office, according to an agreement made within the coalition of opposition parties he headed. However, he has not ruled out staying in power for longer depending on the work they get done.

“The agreement is three years, the mandate constitutionally is five years, we have a job to do - we look at what is going to happen [in] three years, whether we will finish what we want to do or not,” the Gambian president said.

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