By Omar Bah
The Commander of the West African force deployed to protect The Gambia and its government in the wake of last year’s post-election tension, has said that the country’s security situation is fairly stable but in his estimate, it is not yet irreversibly stable.
“The situation is relatively stable but we have to consolidate the gains to make sure that the situation becomes irreversible,” Colonel Magatte Ndiaye told GRTS Check Point recently.
Colonel Ndiaye said there are some threats mostly related to the security forces themselves and some external forces that may intend to influence people inside and prevent the country from being stable.
“We have some concerns about the overall security in The Gambia and this will not be solved until the reform of the security sector is undertaken. So mostly it is related to the security forces themselves. We know that these forces are very active but on the other hand, the government is doing its best to sensitize the population and to bring them to defend Gambia’s interest which is the stability of this country,” he said.
Operation remove Jammeh
The Commander was also asked on the operational plans of the mission last January aimed at removing Jammeh by force. Ndiaye said the first option of ECOWAS was to restore democracy in a peaceful manner and that is why they sent many heads of state to the country to discuss with the former president for a peaceful transfer of power.
“But we also know that the resolution did not exclude the use of force in case those peaceful negotiations fail. Actually if Jammeh refused to step down, force would have been used but the troops were strictly instructed to do whatever possible to minimize collateral damage. We were not ready to indiscriminately target barracks because we knew soldiers were there who were not ready to fight or are loyal to the new government,” he said.
He said the troops were also keen to, in case of use force, limit the destruction to vital installations of the country because they were not prepared to put the new government in a situation where reconstruction will be costly for them.
“In short the whole idea was, we were specifically going to target those elements that were against peace and were ready to defend the former regime at all cost. Our plan was well designed to ensure minimum losses,” he said.
Ecomig relations with Gambia security forces
Colonel Ndiaye said they are cooperating very well with the Gambia Armed Forces, “and I must pay tribute to these security forces when we came in, they decided not to fight and since day one, they have been coping with us very well. The CDS, IGP and the SIS DG have given orders to their subordinates to fully cooperate with us.”
On the incident in Kanilai where a demonstrator was shot dead, Ndiaye said everyone profoundly regretted what happened in Kanilai. “It was a breakdown in communication because when we interacted with the local population and stakeholders they told us that they just woke up and saw military presence in the area without knowing why. So this is why I said it was a breakdown in communication. But, the situation has positively been resolved and the population have realised that they should have not demonstrated and since then they have reconciled with the Ecomig and The Gambian security forces,” he said.
Ndiaye also said their mission is supported by ECOWAS in terms of resources but ECOWAS also have partners who are supporting them.
“I don’t know to what extent…but I know the EU is supporting the process in The Gambia.”
Ndiaye added that their current mandate, which was extended for one year will end in May and after that period, an assessment will be made to see whether or not the mission will be extended.
“It will depend on the situation that prevails.”