LAGOS, Nigeria — West African leaders will send troops into Gambia if its longtime ruler who lost elections does not step down next month, the president of the Economic Community of West African States said Friday.
Marcel de Souza told reporters that the regional bloc has chosen Senegal to lead any military intervention if President Yahya Jammeh does not hand over power.
"The deadline is Jan. 19 when the mandate of Jammeh expires," de Souza said. "If he doesn't go, we have a standby force, which is already on alert. And it's this standby force that should be able to intervene to restore the will of the people."
This would not be the first time the bloc has intervened in a regional crisis. De Souza spoke to reporters in Bamako, Mali, even as ECOWAS continues to use diplomacy to get Jammeh to accept his Dec. 1 defeat.
Jammeh at first shocked Gambians by accepting defeat but announced a week later he had changed his mind. He says irregularities in the vote count made him question the win of Adama Barrow, a little-known businessman who was the opposition coalition candidate.
Troops seized the office of Gambia's electoral commission after Jammeh's later announcement, and he has mobilized troops across the tiny country that is almost completely surrounded by Senegal.
The U.N. Security Council this week urged Gambian security forces to "demonstrate maximum restraint" and again urged Jammeh to accept defeat.
The U. N. high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, called the troop deployment "deeply worrying, given the record of human rights violations in Gambia, including excessive use of force against demonstrators, arbitrary detention and deaths in custody, as well as allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees."
Jammeh took power in a coup 22 years ago.
Michelle Faul, The Associated Press