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West African troops move into Gambian capital to secure new leader’s arrival

Seyllou, AFP| A ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) soldier patrols in Bambatenda pier, near Farafegny, Gambia on January 22, 2017.

Gambia's capital was awaiting the arrival of the country's new leader Adama Barrow as West African troops moved to secure the capital, just hours after Yahya Jammeh, the authoritarian ruler of 22 years, flew into exile.

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West African military forces were seen entering the Gambian presidential compound in the country’s capital on Sunday as they sought to secure new President Adama Barrow’s arrival before he takes office. Yahya Jammeh, who led Gambia for 22 years but refused to accept defeat in the December 1st presidential election, flew out of Banjul late on Saturday en route to Equatorial Guinea as the regional force threatened to intervene.

Barrow is waiting to get the green light from the ECOWAS forces before he returns to Banjul. “I can’t give a precise date or time, but it will be very soon,” he told France 24 in an exclusive interview.

The regional operation was launched late on Thursday after Barrow was sworn in as president at Gambia’s embassy in neighbouring Senegal, but it was then halted to give Jammeh one last chance to leave peacefully.The forces entered Gambia shortly after his departure in order to secure Banjul, ahead of Barrow's arrival.

The unpredictable Jammeh, known for startling declarations like his claim that bananas and herbal rubs could cure AIDS, flew off with a wave as supporters wept.

On Sunday, officials in Equatorial Guinea refused to comment on whether Jammeh had arrived in the country. But in a statement, Equatorial Guinea’s opposition denounced the presence of Jammeh, whose 22-year reign was marked by systematic human rights abuses, on their soil. Equatorial Guinea is not a state party to the International Criminal Court.

Jammeh's dramatic about-face on his election loss to Barrow, at first conceding and then challenging the vote, appeared to be the final straw for the international community, which had been alarmed by his moves in recent years to declare an Islamic republic and leave the Commonwealth and the ICC.

With global backing, Barrow was sworn on January 19 at Gambia's embassy in Senegal for his safety, hours after Jammeh's mandate expired. Meanwhile, Jammeh was abandoned by his defense chief and many Cabinet members.

Barrow has already begun his transition. Halifa Sallah, spokesman for the coalition of opposition parties which supported the new president, said Barrow would, by Monday, begin forming a Cabinet and working with Gambia's national assembly to reverse the state of emergency Jammeh declared in his final days in power.

On Sunday, Barrow warned that state resources appeared to have been depleted when Jammeh fled.

“According to information we received, there is no money in the coffers. It’s what we have been told, but the day we actually take office we will clarify all of it,” Barrow told Senegalese radio station RFM.

Some of the 45,000 people who had fled the tiny country during the crisis began to return. The nation of 1.9 million, which promotes itself to overseas tourists as "the Smiling Coast of Africa," has been a major source of migrants heading toward Europe because of the situation at home.

"I think it will be safer now," said 20-year-old Kaddy Saidy, who was returning to Banjul with her three young children.

Barrow, who has promised to reverse many of Jammeh's actions, told The Associated Press he will launch a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate alleged human rights abuses of Jammeh's regime.

"After 22 years of fear, Gambians now have a unique opportunity to become a model for human rights in West Africa," Amnesty International's deputy director for West and Central Africa, Steve Cockburn, said in a statement Sunday.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)

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