West African troops entered the Gambia’s capital, Banjul, on Sunday, to cheers from the city’s residents, a Reuters witness said, as part of efforts to allow the new president, Adama Barrow, to take office after the country’s former ruler fled overnight. Yahya Jammeh, who led the Gambia for 22 years but refused to accept defeat in a December election, flew out of Banjul late on Saturday en route to Equatorial Guinea as the regional force was poised to remove him. A convoy of around 15 vehicles, including armoured personnel carriers mounted with heavy machine guns and pick-up trucks full of soldiers, rolled down one Banjul street in the late afternoon, according to a Reuters journalist who saw them. City residents lined the road, applauding and shouting “thank you” as the soldiers smiled and waved back. Troops were later seen entering the presidential compound, State House.
The regional operation began late on Thursday after Barrow was sworn in as president at the Gambia’s embassy in neighbouring Senegal, but it was halted hours later to give Jammeh one last chance to leave peacefully. His departure followed two days of negotiations led by Guinea’s president, Alpha Condé, and Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, prompting speculation over what, if any, terms were agreed to convince him to step down.
Speaking on a Senegalese radio station, RFM, Barrow denied that Jammeh had been offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for leaving the country. “He wanted to stay in the Gambia. We said we couldn’t guarantee his security and said that he should leave,” Barrow said.
Earlier in the day, the African Union and United Nations published a document on behalf of these two organisations and the regional organisation, the Economic Community of West African States. In it, they pledged, among other things, to protect Jammeh’s rights “as a citizen, a party leader and a former head of state” to prevent the seizure of property belonging to him and his allies, and to ensure he can eventually return to the Gambia.