Civilians and tourists leave and regional forces deploy as President Jammeh refuses to cede power despite election loss.
The Gambia’s incoming president said he favours launching a “truth and reconciliation commission” to investigate possible crimes committed by the outgoing leader of 22 years.
Speaking to the Associated Press on Saturday, Adama Barrow urged caution after an online petition called for Yahya Jammeh to be arrested, and not be granted asylum.
“We aren’t talking about prosecution here, we are talking about getting a truth and reconciliation commission,” Barrow told the AP. “Before you can act, you have to get the truth, to get the facts together.”
Jammeh, who first seized power in a 1994 coup, has been holed up this week in his official residence in Banjul, increasingly isolated as he was abandoned by his security forces and several cabinet members.
Since losing the election to Barrow in January, Jammeh had for weeks refused to hand over power.
Barrow has been in Senegal for his safety during a political standoff that came to the brink of a regional military intervention.
Under heavy security, Barrow took the presidential oath of office Thursday at The Gambia’s embassy in Dakar, with the backing of the international community.
Jammeh finally prepared to leave the country after declaring on Friday he would do so.
“I have decided in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation,” Jammeh said.
Human rights activists demanded that Jammeh be held accountable for alleged abuses, including torture and detention of opponents.
It was those concerns about prosecution that led Jammeh to challenge the December election results.
At least 46,000 people have fled The Gambia for Senegal since the start of the crisis fearing unrest, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR said, citing Senegalese government figures.
The West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, pledged to remove Jammeh by force if he did not step down. The group assembled a multinational military force including tanks that rolled into The Gambia on Thursday.
The force moved in after Barrow’s inauguration and a unanimous vote by the UN Security Council supporting the regional efforts.
Barrow said he will return to his homeland after the outgoing president leaves.
Writing on Twitter on Saturday from Senegal, Barrow said: “As Yahya Jammeh officially stepped down from office – I will be returning to my homeland, the Republic of The Gambia. #NewGambia.”
Jammeh is expected to leave soon for Guinea, reports said.
Barrow said he will enter The Gambia once a security sweep has been completed.
“It is not yet confirmed information, but reliable sources say he’ll be leaving today,” Barrow told AP. “We believe he’ll go to Guinea, but we are yet to confirm 100 percent, but that’s what we believe.”
In the Guinea capital, Conakry, the security minister was at the airport with Jeeps full of well-armed military personnel, witnesses said.
However, a special plane also landed from Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, with only a crew and no passengers, suggesting that could be Jammeh’s final destination. Equatorial Guinea, unlike Guinea, is not a state party to the International Criminal Court.
The new Gambian president said he had not yet been given the communique that should spell out the terms of Jammeh’s departure.
“What is fundamental here is he will live in a foreign country as of now,” he said.