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West African countries halt Gambia military operation

West African troops have reportedly halted their advance in Gambia to bolster mediation efforts. Thousands of soldiers from Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria have mobilized to pressure Yahya Jammeh to step down.

West African nations suspended their military operation in Gambia overnight but will resume at noon on Friday if longtime leader Yahya Jammeh continues to cling to power, a regional official said.

Marcel de Souza, head of the ECOWAS commission, told reporters there was no way Jammeh could remain in Gambia, but added that if last-ditch mediation efforts succeeded he could choose his country of exile. A delegation of West African heads of state, led by Guinean President Alpha Conde, is expected to travel to Gambia for a final mediation mission on Friday.

Senegalese troops at the ready

News agencies reported that around 7,000 troops had entered Gambia on Thursday as part of the West African military operation to support the new president, Adama Barrow.

"We have entered Gambia," Colonel Abdou Ndiaye of Senegal wrote in a text message to Reuters news agency. He added that the regional force had begun strikes under the operation, dubbed "Restore Democracy." 

However, DW spoke with local journalists in the early hours of Friday, who said that Senegalese military were placed along the Gambian border, but had not actually entered its territory. 

Local journalists also reported that the chief of the Gambian defense forces had said its troops did not want to fight. The source noted that Gambian forces recognized Barrow as the legitimate president and did not intend to put up any opposition to Senegalese troops.

Watch video 00:43

W African leaders to The Gambia for mediation

New president sworn in

Earlier on Thursday, a hastily arranged ceremony took place in the Senegalese capital of Dakar to inaugurate Adama Barrow as the new president. Around 40 people were present in the ceremony, including Senegal's prime minister and the head of Gambia's electoral commission. Several hundred people watched the televised event standing outside the Gambian embassy in Dakar, news agencies reported.

"This is a day no Gambian will ever forget in a lifetime," Barrow said in his inaugural speech. "We will now build a Gambia where what you know counts more than who you know," he added.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres congratulated the new president, extending his support. Guterres "told President Barrow of his full support for his determination, and ECOWAS' historic decision, with the unanimous backing of the Security Council, to restore the rule of law in The Gambia so as to honor and respect the will of the Gambian people," a UN spokesman said.

Gambia is surrounded on three sides by Senegal

Gambia is surrounded on three sides by Senegal

Following the ceremony, he called upon security forces in his country to "demonstrate their loyalty," asking soldiers to remain in their barracks. Those who did not would be considered rebels, the Reuters news agency reported. Thousands of Gambians were reported to have fled the country fearing unrest, the UN said. Officials from ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, were also present at the swearing-in.

UN calls for peaceful transition

The UN Security Council has meanwhile unanimously backed the new president and called on Jammeh to "carry out a peaceful and orderly transition process" and transfer power to Barrow in accordance with the Gambian constitution.

Jammeh has been in power since a coup in 1994. His mandate ended after Barrow won the elections in December. Jammeh conceded initially, but backtracked later, saying the vote was flawed. Subsequent talks to persuade him to step down also failed.

Adama Barrow is a former businessman and a real estate tycoon. He was chosen as the head of the coalition of Gambia's opposition parties. After winning the elections in December, he announced his country's exit from the Commonwealth - a group of former British colonies - and the International Criminal Court, which tries crimes against humanity.

mg/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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