FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec.13, 2016 file photo, Liberia President and chair of the West African regional bloc, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, waves following a meeting with Ecowas delegation in Banjul, Gambia. The chair of the West African regional bloc has said the body stands with the people of Gambia in their fight to ensure that democracy prevails, and will apply diplomatic solutions to solve the crisis. (AP Photo/ Sylvain Cherkaoui, File)

Gambia: ECOWAS will not deploy troops for now

West African leaders are softening their position and will not be deploying a standby force to The Gambia ahead of ruling by the country’s Supreme Court on a petition filed by President Yahya Jammeh, who is refusing to step down.

Ecowas chair and Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in Accra that the regional economic bloc is “committed to a peaceful meditation and a peaceful transfer of power in the Gambia.”

Ecowas said it will pursue the path of diplomacy for now, but not still ruling out the use of force while monitoring the Supreme Court sittings. Jammeh’s party filed a petition to the country’s Supreme Court against the election, and a key court ruling is expected January 10.

“We want to apply diplomatic solutions to solve the problem,” Sirleaf said. Asked if troops would be moved into Gambia she responded: “no, we want to keep the region peaceful.”

The United States says no credible court will hear Jammeh’s petition casting doubts on the independence of the judiciary.

Diplomats still remain concerned that the logjam can escalate to violence.

The Economic Community of West African States has before threatened to send troops led by neighboring Senegal to Gambia if President Yahya Jammeh does not step down when his mandate ends on Jan. 19.

Jammeh lost to opposition coalition candidate Adama Barrow and initially conceded, but later called for a new vote alleging “irregularities.”

The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and others have united in criticizing Mr. Jammeh.

The U.S. has asked its citizens to leave the West African nation and warned against travel to The Gambia because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future.

Leaders of the opposition coalition that won the December 1 presidential polls urged President Yahya Jammeh to open lines of communication. Last week, a spokesperson for President-elect Adama Barrow said it would be shameful for outside intervention to occur to settle the impasse.

(Reporting and Writing by Sam Phatey; Additional Reporting and Writing by Mustapha Darboe; Editing by Alhagie Jobe)

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