Gambia’s Jammeh faces noon deadline to quit

Gambia President Adams Barrow leaves the Gambian Embassy after being inaugurated in Dakar, Senegal. (AP Photo/Jane Hahn)
Updated 20 January 2017
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Gambia’s Jammeh faces noon deadline to quit

BANJUL, GAMBIA: Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh faced a “last chance saloon” deadline to step down by noon as troops from five African nations stood by for action and key regional leaders flew in to make a final plea.
Mauritania’s Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Guinea’s Alpha Conde were due in the capital, Banjul, as troops already inside The Gambia postponed military intervention to give Jammeh, who was defeated in elections last month, a final chance to leave quietly.
The two heads of state are long-term allies of Jammeh, who has had more prickly relations with other west African leaders during the post-election crisis these last weeks.
Diplomats in Banjul confirmed to AFP that the pair were arriving, with one describing a “last chance saloon” moment before foreign troops led by Senegal remove Jammeh by force.
Jammeh has rejected President Adama Barrow’s December 1 election win, despite significant pressure from regional powers and the UN, sparking a major crisis and sending tourists — vital for the tiny country’s economy — fleeing.
In Conakry, minister and Conde adviser Kiridi Bangoura said Jammeh would be offered asylum in the country of his choice.
Barrow, who was sworn in at The Gambia’s embassy in Dakar on Thursday, remained in Senegal awaiting the outcome of the talks, with hopes of taking over the reigns of state from Jammeh as soon as his safety could be guaranteed.
He hailed a “victory of the Gambian nation” and demanded loyalty from his armed forces at his inauguration.
An imminent military operation was suspended late Thursday to allow a final diplomatic push to convince Jammeh, who has ruled the former British colony since seizing power in a 1994 coup, to leave the country.
“We have suspended operations and given him an ultimatum,” said Marcel Alain de Souza, head of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
“If by midday, he doesn’t agree to leave The Gambia... we really will intervene militarily,” he added.
As white flags reportedly flew from Gambian army posts in the countryside, tectonic shifts were said to be underway among the military elite, pointing to a gradual acceptance of Barrow, even among units known for loyalty to Jammeh.
A diplomatic source said a faction had “switched sides” among the elite Republican Guards who assure Jammeh’s personal protection, following meetings among themselves at their Bakau barracks close to Banjul.
Gambian army chief Ousman Badjie was seen celebrating Barrow’s inauguration late Thursday and had already declared he would not order his men to fight for Jammeh.
Soldiers were told by Barrow in his inauguration speech they would be considered rebel elements if they remained armed on the streets, and the few that remained on Thursday did not attempt to stop the spontaneous celebrations that broke out in Barrow’s stronghold districts.
Vultures circled the deserted streets of Banjul on Friday morning, with the usual heavy military presence near absent.
“If they (foreign troops) come we will just stay in our homes and let them take him. If I had the chance I would apprehend him myself. He’s messed up our lives,” one Banjul resident told AFP under condition of anonymity.

On the ground, troops including “land, air and sea” forces crossed into The Gambia, a Senegalese army officer told AFP, indicating that Nigeria, Ghana, Togo and Mali were also involved.
A Senegalese army spokesman confirmed his country’s troops had crossed the border, after Nigerian jets earlier flew over The Gambia.
The uncertainty continued to push Gambians to flee the country and shelter with relatives in neighboring states, while others living close to the capital returned to villages upcountry.
The United Nations refugee agency said around 45,000 had fled The Gambia so far, with more than 75 percent of those being sent out children, largely accompanied by women.
“They are staying with family members, host families or in hotels. Some families are hosting up to 40 to 50 people and will soon need support as they may quickly run out of resources,” a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report said.


MILF chief makes historic visit to Philippines military camp

Updated 3 min 4 sec ago
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MILF chief makes historic visit to Philippines military camp

MANILA: Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim, as a Muslim rebel, once envisioned destroying military camps in the Philippines. 

But on Monday, for the first time ever, he visited Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo — the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) main camp — where he was even accorded military honors. 

MILF is the Philippines’ Muslim rebel group which, for more than 40 years, has sought autonomy for the Moro people in Mindanao.

“More than four decades ago, I walked out of a university without completing my engineering degree. Many of my Bangsamoro colleagues, I know, did the same. Since then, I have avoided military installations and camps,” Ebrahim told reporters after his meeting with AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr.

“And to be very candid, during those years of war, I have thought only of destroying or neutralizing military camps and I never imagined during those dark days that I would one day step inside a military camp and be feted with this exceptional honor by what used to be our adversary,” Ebrahim added.

As he sat with Galvez during the press briefing, Murad said he “cannot fully express in words” his gratitude for the privilege of being honored at the headquarters of the AFP.

“I came, I saw, I found friends, and I made peace!” said the MILF chair, adding: “I am truly honored to join our partners in peace, from the highest leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, down to the lowest-ranking element of this institution.”

Murad said his trip to the AFP main camp was to reciprocate the visit of Galvez, who also made a historic visit to the MILF’s Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat in October.

“This visit is a concrete manifestation not only of the solid partnership of our institutions, but a testament of an enduring personal friendship built upon the solid foundation of our mutual commitment to work for peace and see through the dawn of a new day — not just for the Bangsamoro but for this country as well,” Murad said.

The MILF chair said that at the age of 19 in 1969, he left the university to join the Moro struggle in the southern Philippines. 

“This happened during the time when there was a series of massacres. We felt there was already a genocidal campaign against the Moro people so we were forced to organize ourselves to defend. Generally it’s a defense,” he said.

The situation, he said, worsened in 1972 when martial law was declared by the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos. 

“The atrocities of the government security forces have worsened. Many Moro people have died so we have to organize already not only a defense but a liberation organization, which is the birth of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF),” said Murad. The MILF would later become a faction of the MNLF.

He pointed out, though, that their policy from the beginning was that they “have never considered the AFP or any soldier of the Republic as (their) enemy.”

“What we have always considered as the enemy is oppression and injustice. This is the teaching of Islam and this is what we have always adhered to in the Code of Conduct of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). In the pursuit, however, of our struggle for the right to self-determination of our people, we then saw the AFP as the instrument of the injustices committed against our people such as the loss of our homeland, discrimination and prejudices, and massacres, as well as the denial of our freedom to practice our religion,” Murad said.

But over the years, he stressed, they have also seen the gradual transformation of the AFP, which he now calls their “partners in peace.”

Galvez, for his part, said the reciprocal visit of Murad signifies the strong trust and confidence of the MILF leadership in the AFP and the national government, and the same was true of the military’s trust and confidence in the MILF leadership.

He then cited the visit of MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar and BIAF Chief of Staff Sammy Al Mansour and colleagues at the Bangsamoro Transition Commission in Camp Aguinaldo to convey their commitment toward the peaceful resolution of all conflict in the Bangsamoro region.

“On Oct. 6, we paid a visit to MILF Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, and we declared that the war is over between the AFP and the MILF. I was much honored when around 6,000 men and women of the MILF lined up together on the 5 km road from Cotabato City to Simuay to welcome us,” said the AFP chief.

“The visits done by AFP and MILF manifest the strong mutual desire of both parties toward just and lasting peace for the Bangsamoro Region,” Galvez continued.

Murad’s visit to the AFP camp comes two months ahead of the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) which will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The BAR will enjoy fiscal autonomy and be governed by the Bangsamoro Parliament.

Meanwhile, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Dr. Yousef Al Othaimeen has officially affirmed his support of the ongoing peace process in the Southern Philippines.

Murad told Arab News that the OIC secretary-general gave his commitment during a meeting last Nov. 6 at the OIC office in Jeddah.

During the meeting, the two sides reviewed the latest developments in the peace process in the Mindanao and discussed the forthcoming plebiscite, due to be held in January 2019 to ratify the BOL.

Murad said the secretary-general also assured him that he would try to reach out to the member states of the OIC to support the peace process in Mindanao. 

“He knows there will be many challenges, among them the establishment of the (Bangsamoro) government.” 

“He (the secretary-general) also said he will personally visit the Philippines before the plebiscite,” Murad added.

A statement posted in the OIC website said the secretary-general welcomed developments in the peace process in Mindanao and urged all parties to remain fully committed to the process.

“Talks also focused on the visit by the secretary-general to the region and the importance of the Bangsamoro people to unify, consolidate and converge together toward the advancement of the peace process and the final resolution of the situation in Mindanao,” it added.