ECOWAS forces have added the search for secret weapons depots to their to-do list and would remain in the West African nation of The Gambia until they are secured and mercenary fighters neutralized, said the commission’s President Marcel de Souza.
“We will look for hidden weapons and mercenaries will be whisked away to create a true situation of tranquility, to secure the return of populations who fear reprisals and to ensure that the country regains its national unity,” said Mr. Souza.
Liberia’s President and ECOWAS Chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the situation in the Gambia can destabilize the entire West African sub-region, which in the 20th century had been devastated by civil war.
Gambia’s former autocratic leader Yahya Jammeh, who has fled to exile, was said to have hired former mercenaries who fought for Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo to help him start and insurgency and remain in power.
Gambia’s vice presidential pick Fatoumata Tambajang has warned that Jammeh had secret bunkers and was stashing weapons in his home village, Kanilai, near the border with southern Senegal’s Casamance region.
A regional military general leading the ECOMIG troops said heavy weapons in the armory of the Gambia’s presidential compound have gone missing and may be in Kanilai or with rebel fighters.
“We are certain that there are secret weapons depots and we have consequently included the search of such weapons to ECOMIG mission. That’s why ECOWAS forces will secure the Gambian capital and the Gambian territory for a given necessary time,” according to Mr. Souza.
Former President Yahya Jammeh went into exile in Equatorial Guinea with some of his most trusted military aides, including three generals implicated in his crimes against the state and human rights abuses.
Opposition leaders in the Central African nation are raising tensions over his presence and say he is ineligible for asylum in their country.