The Gambia has warned its ousted leader Yahya Jammeh not to try to return home from his exile in Equatorial Guinea.
Jammeh’s safety couldn’t be guaranteed if he did return without permission, a government spokesman told the BBC. A spokesman for Jammeh’s party said he could arrive back at any time.
The Gambia’s neighbours forced Jammeh into exile in Equatorial Guinea after he refused to accept his defeat in elections in December 2016.
Having seized power in a coup in the popular tourist destination in 1994, he went on to hold regular elections, but was later accused of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary detention.
The interim leader of Jammeh’s party, Ousman Rambo Jatta, refused to say exactly when the ousted leader would arrive in The Gambia. “He is on his way… He can be here any time,” he told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.
Jatta was speaking at the weekend after a recording of his conversation with Jammeh was leaked.
In that recording, the ousted leader was heard voicing his support for a demonstration by his supporters planned for 16 January. “I don’t want any violence and I don’t want anybody to touch anything or to destroy anything,” Jammeh said.
Jammeh has said that he wants to assert his right to return home. This was clearly stipulated in the January 2017 agreement brokered by the United Nations, African Union and regional body, Ecowas, which saw him agree to go into exile under pressure from Ecowas troops which had already entered The Gambia.
This states that Jammeh would leave “temporarily” and was “at liberty to return to The Gambia at any time of his choosing in accordance with international human rights law and his rights as a citizen of The Gambia and a former head of state”.
However, government spokesman Ebrima Sankareh said he didn’t “know what document the man is talking about” and pointed out that President Barrow had never signed any such agreement. If he returns without permission, “the Gambian government cannot guarantee his safety and security”, Sankareh told the BBC. He thought Jammeh was “homesick”, noting that Equatorial Guinea and The Gambia have few cultural links in common.
Jatta, the interim leader of Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction party, said that Jammeh should be allowed to live in peace in The Gambia, rather than be put on trial over allegations of human rights abuses.