ABIDJAN Jan 4 Gambia's army chief reaffirmed
his loyalty to embattled President Yahya Jammeh on Wednesday in
the face of a possible regional military intervention to enforce
the result of an election that dealt the longtime leader a
Jammeh initially accepted his defeat in the Dec. 1 election
but a week later reversed his position, vowing to hang onto
power despite a wave of regional and international condemnation.
West African regional bloc ECOWAS has placed standby forces
on alert in case Jammeh attempts to stay in power after his
mandate ends on Jan. 19. Jammeh has called the bloc's stance "a
declaration of war".
"May I please seize this opportunity to renew to your
Excellency the assurance of the unflinching loyalty and support
of the Gambia Armed Forces," General Ousman Badjie wrote in a
letter to Jammeh published in a pro-government newspaper.
Many Gambians, who have lived through 22 years of Jammeh's
increasingly authoritarian rule, were stunned when the elections
commission declared opposition figure Adama Barrow the winner of
last month's election. Jammeh's initial acceptance of the result
sparked nationwide celebrations.
Badjie declared his allegiance to Barrow soon after the poll
results were announced, according to a spokesman for the
president-elect. However his position remained unclear following
Jammeh's dramatic about-face.
In an illustration of the growing pressure on Gambian
officials as the Jan. 19 deadline looms, Alieu Momarr Njai, the
head of the elections commission, fled Gambia on Friday due to
fears for his security, family members said.
Last month Gambian security forces seized control of the
commission's headquarters, which holds the original poll records
and told staff, including Njai, to leave.
Over the weekend Gambian security agents closed three
private radio stations, making it harder for the incoming
government to communicate with its supporters.
"It is a sign of weakness for any side of the political
spectrum to resort to media closures rather than engagement to
put one's position across," Barrow's office said on Wednesday in
a statement that also called for the release of detainees.
Leaders of ECOWAS member nations have dismissed Jammeh's
move to challenge his election defeat before Gambia's Supreme
Court on Jan. 10 and say they will attend Barrow's swearing-in
(Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Gareth Jones)