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On Gambia, ICP Asks UN If Jammeh Stays to May, Spox Defers to ECOWAS, No Sarr Answer

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 11 – As in The Gambia Yahya Jammeh moved on December 1 to shut off the Internet (and Viber, etc) for the / his election, there was again a deafening silence from the UN and its “communications” / press eviction chief Cristina Gallach.

On January 11, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: On Gambia, I wanted to ask, the President, Yahya Jammeh, said that no one can take him out of power or should take him out of power until the Supreme Court rules, which will be in May.  What does… does the UN think… what do you think of that?

Spokesman:  We are very much supporting the efforts of ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States].  I understand the mission by the Nigerian President, who's leading a number of ECOWAS leaders, will take place later this week.  Mr. [Mohammed ibn] Chambas himself will brief the Security Council.  We want to see a peaceful transition that answers the hopes and aspirations of the people of the Gambia.

  On January 8 a fourth radio station, Paradise FM, was closed, it was announced - and still from the UN, nothing.

  So on January 9 Inner City Press asked holdover UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about this, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: I asked you before about Gambia, but now, over the weekend, a fourth radio station, Paradise FM, has been closed.  So, it seems like that Yahya Jammeh is entrenching himself and closing down the media.  What steps are being taken, to the UN's knowledge by the region and by the UN itself, and do you have any statement on the closing of radio stations in Gambia?

Spokesman:  Obviously, it's clear that we're against any and all forced closing of radio stations.  The free media is an important component to any… any democracy.   Obviously, the situation in the Gambia is of continuing concern to us.  I know the President of Nigeria, I think, is having a meeting today.  We're trying to get some sort of update from our colleagues in the office of… for West Africa.  And we've been involved in that, as well.  It's important for the sake of the people of the Gambia that a peaceful resolution be found to the current impasse that we're in.

   But goes today's UN, or at least Dujarric and DPI's Gallach, really support freedom of the media, even inside the UN? The transcript continued:

Inner City Press:  Sure.  And I have a quick… another question, which is that there was the town-hall meeting today by the sec… by the Secretary-General, António Guterres, and was it on the UN's website.  It was on the publicly available website.  And I was broadcasting it by Periscope, and I was told to stop, that this violated guidelines.  I just wanted to be clear from you: can it violate guidelines to broadcast something that's on the UN's own website?

Spokesman:  My… listen, I'm not sure what the details of your retail situation was.  What I do know is that it was not on the website that was publicly accessible…

Inner City Press:  Yes, it was.  It's important.

Spokesman:  I understand… I understand.  It was an event meant for staff.  I think it is only normal that the Secretary-General be allowed to speak and have a frank conversation with his staff outside of the glare of the media.  I think it was a very good… it was a very good meeting from the point of view of staff.  I think it was a very good meeting for the Secretary-General to be able to hear firsthand for the first time the concerns of staff around the world.  It was on our internal webcast.

Inner City Press:  I don't have access to the internal website, so I saw it on the public website.  I just want to be clear that reporting on it… because I don't disagree with anything that you've said, but reporting on it, given that it was on the public website, does not…

Spokesman:  My understanding is that it was not on the public website.  So, you and I have different views of reality.  We can check… try to combine those later.

  It was on the UN's public website; Dujarric didn't even bother to check, just amplified Gallach's DPI's threat. This is today's UN.

 On January 5, Inner City Press asked holdover UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, video here, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: about Gambia.  The electoral commission chief has gone into hiding, and the Government has closed three radio stations, one of which reopened with no news on it.  So what's the status of the UN's work on this holdover presidency?

Spokesman:  We've had… various UN officials have had contacts with parties involved, and obviously we would like to see and are very keen to see a peaceful resolution to the current crisis in the Gambia and, notably, the… for the President… the outgoing President to leave way for the President that was just elected.

 As of January 7, new Secretary General Antonio Guterres had yet to speak publicly about Jammeh and Gambia. Click here for more on UN press freedom improvements needed, including proposals of the Free UN Coalition for Access. Meanwhile the US issued a travel warning:

  "The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to The Gambia because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future.  On January 7, 2017, the Department of State ordered the departure of family members and authorized the departure of all employees who need to accompany those individuals from the country.

The security situation in The Gambia remains uncertain following December 1, 2016 presidential elections.  On January 10, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the current president’s petition contesting the election results, which is a potential flashpoint that could lead to civil unrest.  The sitting government has begun taking restrictive measures, which include shutting down and restricting radio stations, and making politically motivated arrests.  The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has stated it may intervene if the president does not step down by January 18.

U.S. citizens should consider departing on commercial flights and other transportation options now, as airports and ferry terminals may close unexpectedly in the event of unrest.  All U.S. citizens should have evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance.  U.S. citizens should ensure that travel documents (passports and visas) are valid and up-to-date.  Consular services, already limited throughout the country due to very poor transportation infrastructure and security conditions, may be further limited, including in Banjul itself.

U.S. citizens who decide to remain in The Gambia should prepare for the possible deterioration of security."

  We'll have more on this.


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