Long-ruling Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh, who lost elections last month, has until midday Friday, January 20 to hand over power and agree to leave the country or face military action, regional bloc ECOWAS has said, according to Reuters.
West African troops entered The Gambia on Thursday to bolster its new President Adama Barrow but the military operation was suspended a few hours later, in favour of a final diplomatic effort to convince Jammeh -- who has refused to quit -- to exit the country.
"We have suspended operations and given him an ultimatum," said Marcel Alain de Souza, head of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States. "If by midday, he doesn't agree to leave The Gambia...we really will intervene militarily," he added.
Final talks will be led by Guinean president Alpha Conde in the Gambian capital Banjul on Friday morning, according to de Souza. Conde will first travel to Mauritania where he will meet the country's president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who led the previous round of negotiations on Wednesday with Jammeh.
De Souza said a total of 7,000 troops would be mobilised by Senegal and four other nations, a day after they first crossed into the tiny tourist-friendly country, whose army chief joined ordinary citizens celebrating in the streets seven weeks after contested polls.
The United States earlier praised the West African intervention.
"We understand that the purpose is to help stabilise a tense situation and to try to observe the will of the people in the Gambia," State Department spokesman John Kirby said. Barrow was sworn in at The Gambia's embassy in Dakar in neighbouring Senegal Thursday after Jammeh refused to step down despite international pressure following his December election loss.