A last minute attempt to convince Yahya Jammeh to give up his role as Gambian president before Wednesday’s midnight deadline failed, according to sources in the country’s capital.
Mauretanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz allegedly made a last-ditch effort late Wednesday night to persuade Jammeh to stand down after more than two decades in power, but was not able to convince him.
Troops from Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana remained in position in neighbouring Senegal as the deadline passed.
Meanwhile 26,000 Gambians crossed the border into Senegal between the start of the year and Monday, with many continuing to flee the impending conflict in recent days, according to UNHCR spokeswoman Helene Caux in Dakar.
Eyewitnesses reported heavily armed soldiers arriving at the Senegalese border town of Karang late Wednesday, while the Nigerian Air Force deployed fighter jets and troops to Senegal ahead of a likely military intervention in Gambia, where the post-election political crisis was escalating.
Regional bloc ECOWAS pledged to send troops to ensure a peaceful transition of power after it failed in repeated attempts to convince Jammeh to cede power.
After ruling Gambia for 22 years, Jammeh has refused to accept the result of a December 1 election, which saw him lose power to real estate mogul Adama Barrow.
Halifa Sallah, a spokesman for the president-elect, said if Jammeh refused to step down by midnight, Thursday’s inauguration would take place at the Gambian embassy in Dakar due to the military intervention in Gambia.
The Nigerian Air Force said in a statement its deployment was in keeping with the West African bloc’s pledge to enforce the election mandate.
Nigeria moved 200 troops, fighter jets, transport aircraft, helicopters and other air assets to the Senegalese capital Dakar, and planned to move them from there into Gambia.
“The deployment is also to forestall hostilities or breakdown of law and order that may result from the current political impasse in Gambia,” the statement read.
Barrow fled Gambia on Saturday to Dakar amid fears of violence, but has insisted he would be inaugurated as scheduled on Thursday.
The president, who refuses to leave office, on Tuesday placed his army on highest alert and chief of defence staff, Ousman Badjie, repeatedly pledged his loyalty to the autocrat.
Experts, however, don’t believe Jammeh will be able to hold up a military battle for long.
The country of 1.9 million people has about 1,000 soldiers, little capacity to fight a well-trained army, for example that of Senegal, which has almost 20,000 troops.