Gambia refuses to play ball

The ruling junta in Gambia, one of Africa's smallest and poorest countries, appears to have called the bluff of Western powers by rejecting their demands for an immediate return to civilian rule and announcing a four-year transition period before elections will be allowed again.

Britain has told Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh, who overturned one of Africa's longest- surviving democracies in July, that it expects his military government to return to barracks within six months.

But after Lt Jammeh announced his programme on Monday night (a new constitution, electoral reform, a restructured security service, honouring of international commitments, corruption probes, an open free-market economy and a crackdown on crime), Britain restricted its reaction to condemning the length of the transition period as 'unwelcome and unnecessary'.

Washington and the EU have yet to respond to Lt Jammeh's announcement.

Gambia, with a long tradition of democratic rule and close ties with Britain, is a test case for the West's promotion of good government and democracy in Africa. The ousted President, Sir Dawda Jawara, said last night that four years was unacceptable. 'We have now to concentrate international efforts to condemn this regime at the United Nations and aim at getting the soldiers back to barracks as quickly as possible.'

Although Gambia obtains some 80 per cent of its budget in foreign aid and appears vulnerable to Western pressure, the military rulers appear to be turning to Libya and Iran for assistance, according to Western diplomats.

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