President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia will not be allowed to remain head of state if he refuses to go after his elected term ends next month, the top United Nations official in West Africa said on Wednesday.
Reuters also quoted the UN official as saying that Jammeh would face “strong sanctions if he clings to power.”
Jammeh, who took power in a coup in 1994, initially conceded defeat in the December 1 election to Adama Barrow, raising the prospect of an end to 22 years of autocratic rule tainted by allegations of widespread human rights abuses.
But in a dramatic about-face that drew international condemnation, Jammeh then rejected the voting results last Friday, and his party is now challenging the outcome at the Gambia’s Supreme Court.
“For Mr. Jammeh, the end is here and under no circumstances can he continue to be president. By that time (January 18), his mandate is up and he will be required to hand over to Mr. Barrow,” Mohammed Ibn Chambas, U.N. Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, told Reuters.
He said Jammeh would be “strongly sanctioned” if he did not step down and hand over power to Barrow, without giving details.
Chambas accompanied a delegation of ECOWAS presidents including President Muhammadu Buhari to Gambia on Tuesday but failed to reach a deal that would see Jammeh step down.
Instead, Gambian soldiers seized the headquarters of the national elections commission and sealed it off just hours before the presidents touched down in the riverside nation.
The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday that the takeover was an “outrageous act of disrespect of the will of the Gambian people.”
Asked whether military intervention was an option in Gambia if mediation failed, Chambas said: “It may not be necessary. Let’s cross that bridge when we get there.”
The building in the capital Banjul remained deserted on Wednesday aside from two armed security guards. Its front gate and ground floor entrances were closed.
“No one has gone to work. I didn’t even try. No one has informed me that I can go back,” elections commission chairman, Alieu Momarr Njai, said on Wednesday.
The ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction filed a challenge to the election result, even as the delegation held mediation meetings on Tuesday.
“We do not believe it will be heard by a credible court dedicated to ensuring the integrity of The Gambia’s democratic process,” a U.S. Embassy statement said.