President Adama Barrow and Theodore Obiang have held their first face-to-face talks, on the sidelines of the United Nations summit in the U.S. city of New York.
Barrow and Obiang, who said they were pleased to meet each other personally discussed a wide range of issues, including Yahya Jammeh.
Jammeh was given a safe haven by Obiang following his election defeat. West African troops forced him to flee after he refused to cede power.
Barrow’s government accuse him of mismanaging billions, stealing millions right before leaving and committing gross human rights abuses.
A Commission of Inquiry is probing Jammeh financial ventures, uncovering corruption, financial irregularities and amassing of wealth by the ex-leader at the expense of poor Gambians taxpayers.
“It is important that the president met with Obiang to build some form of contact and relations, especially with Jammeh being hidden in his country,” said a senior Gambian official.
“It will not be easy to return Jammeh to Gambia to face trial for his alleged crimes against the state but this meeting is a good starting point and a very significant one for that matter.”
Only a very few of Mr. Barrow and Obiang’s aides were allowed in the meeting. The doors were shut and the two leaders went straight to business, in what was described to be a “candid conversation of national interest.”
At least 300 suspected loyalists of the former ruler are reportedly camping in neighboring nations and in contact with Jammeh’s moles in the Gambia’s army and his generals in Equatorial Guinea.
The Gambia’s army has so far, dismissed the reports of a mass desertion after Jammeh fled but arrested a suspect dozen people for attempting to revolt against Barrow’s regime.
The official will not give details of the conversation but said there was a “robust and lengthy” discussion regarding security and that the two leaders had “very good talks overall.”
“No agreement has been made and neither leaders signed any bilateral cooperation but they were warm towards one another and listened cautiously,” according to this official.
President Barrow’s first visit to an African country was to Congo Brazzaville, where he held talks with President Denis Sassou-Ngesso. Part of their conversation is suspected to have focused on Mr. Jammeh.
Sassou-Ngesso is an influential leader in Central Africa and a close ally of President Theodore Obiang, both of whom are described as some of Africa’s few remaining autocrats.
Jammeh’s victims and their families say the ex-strongman must be extradited to The Gambia to stand trial for his human rights violations, a process that may take years, possibly decades to achieve.
Jacqueline Moudeina, a lawyer for victims of the ex-Chadian dictator, Hissène Habré is taking up the case of Jammeh’s victims. It took him more than two decades to secure justice for Habré’s victims in Dakar, Senegal.
Unlike Equatorial Guinea, Senegal is a democratic country and a member of the International Criminal Court. It makes Jammeh’s extradition a difficult possibility.
Gambia’s security intelligence also believe that Jammeh and his trusted generals are working to launch an armed assault on Barrow’s regime from their safe haven.