Senegal FM blames lack of comm. for bad relations with Banjul

By Kemo Cham
Senegal-Gambia relations, if the words of Madike Niang, Senegal’s Foreign Affairs Minister are anything to go by, are heading for their best. Mr Niang who made no attempt to hide the fact that misunderstanding had been the sole reason for their sometimes frosty relations with their Gambian counterparts, expressed strong conviction that all that transpired between them in the past as neighbours are now behind them. The Minister told L’As Quotidien, a leading Dakar based newspaper, that Senegal had no disputes with any country, except, he admitted, for some misunderstandings with the Gambia. ‘‘But everything is back to normal,’’ he said. According to him, this latest refining of relations with its closest neighbour, Gambia, is part of a greater drive to strengthening Senegal’s relations with the entirety of its neighbours (Mauritania, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and Gambia). However, so far throughout the period of this latest round of Senegal’s diplomatic campaign, its president, Abdoulie Wade, has only visited Gambia, which goes to demonstrate what neither country can totally deny, the fact that there have been greater misunderstanding between the two than there are between Senegal and any of the rest of its other neighbours. Since 2005, the Senegalese chief Diplomat said, the bilateral structures between the two countries have never been working; such that when there were misunderstandings, there were no adequate structures to discuss and find solutions. ‘‘Neither the Joint Committee, the Permanent Secretariat nor the Advisory Committee which met for the last time when Idrissa Seck was prime minister, were functional,’’ Niang said. But, he went on, ‘‘through understanding and ability to listen to the Gambian President, we set up all the ambiguities and overcome all the misunderstandings. At the end there was this historic visit of President Wade to his brother and Gambian counterpart.’’ But the Senegalese Foreign Affairs Minister also accused ‘’some people round’’ Yahya Jammeh as responsible for the bad blood between the two countries, pointing at the ‘rumour’ recently circulating that Senegal was working in connivance with Gambian dissidents like Kukoi Samba Sanyang and Colonel Ndour Cham, the latter being the main accused in the alleged foiled 2006 coup in Gambia. ‘‘But we rejected that. Every time they asked us, we said no,’’ Niang stressed. And he added that as a way of demonstrating his commitment to a friendly relation, President Wade went on to invite the Gambian side to indicate where these people are, so that they can proceed to arresting them immediately, and subsequently deport them in the presence of a competent Gambian authority. But there were also reports that the Gambia was a sanctuary for some members of the MFDC, which, according to Madike Niang, has been categorically denied by Yahya Jammeh. ‘‘He even invoked his faith in God to convince us that he was never committed to feeding a rebellion in Casamance or condone any action that could destabilize Senegal,’’ Niang said. Niang went on to say that Jammeh also denied having Salif Sadio in Gambia, and that the Gambian leader swore that even if the leader of an uncontrollable faction of the MFD was found in the country he [Jammeh] would ensure that he was deported. Among the good news for the Senegalese in this renewed relationship is the historic decision of squashing the alien card requirement, which had forced many of their compatriots to voluntarily repatriate to their home. ‘‘Now they simply move with their Senegalese identity cards,’’ Niang said. There is also the agreement on the building of the bridge which links the North Bank and Lower River regions of the Gambia, which is mostly used by Senegalese who travelled to the southern part of their country. As a result of previous disagreement as to how the issue of this bridge is resolved, the minister said, donors have always been discouraged away. But with their latest line of action, he added, they will forge their efforts together and ‘‘seek funding and build this bridge’’ whose management will be the responsibility of the Gambian side. There was also a landmark security agreement which is yet to be ratified by the parliaments of either side, which will commit both to refraining from tolerating any action that could destabilize the other country. Senegal, the minister added, has also committed itself to facilitating the movement of persons and properties from Gambia. ‘‘We must strike while the iron is hot,’’ he concluded.

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