AP INTERVIEW: New Gambia Leader To Set Up Truth Commission

JANUARY 21, 2017

In this image taken from video, Gambia's new president Adama Barrow talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Dakar, Senegal, Saturday Jan. 21, 2017, just hours after Yahya Jammeh agreed to step down from office. Barrow said Saturday that he will launch a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the alleged human rights abuses of Yahya Jammeh's 22-year regime.

DAKAR, SENEGAL (AP) — Gambia's new president Adama Barrow said Saturday that he will launch a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the alleged human rights abuses of Yahya Jammeh's 22-year regime.

In an interview with The Associated Press just hours after Jammeh finally acquiesced to political exile, Barrow, 51, said it is too soon to tell whether the former president could face trial at the International Criminal Court or elsewhere.

"We aren't talking about prosecution here. We are talking about getting a truth and reconciliation commission," he said. "Before you can act, you have to get the truth, to get the facts together." The exact terms of Jammeh's departure remained under wraps Saturday apart from his destination: Guinea.

"What is fundamental here is he will live in a foreign country as of now," said Barrow, visibly tired and wearing a powder blue traditional West African boubou robe and white leather slip-on shoes. It's been a chaotic and tragic week for the new Gambian leader, who is being protected by heavily armed guards at a private residence in an upscale Dakar neighborhood equipped with its own metal detector.

A funeral was held Monday for Barrow's 7-year-old son, Habib, who was fatally mauled by a dog. Barrow did not attend because he was advised not to return to Banjul for fear that the Jammeh regime would threaten him. On Thursday, Barrow, a former businessman and real estate developer, was sworn into office at the Gambian Embassy in Dakar as hundreds of exiled Gambians cheered and waved flags outside.

In his inaugural address, Barrow vowed "a new start" for Gambia promised to expand the country's democratic gains. Although officially elected to a five-year term, Barrow has said would serve only three years with a goal of repairing Gambia's democracy before making the way for new leadership. That is in pointed contrast to Jammeh's long rule, and the many other African leaders who stay in office for lengthy periods.

Barrow also has said he would prioritize reviving the stagnant economy of the tiny West African country, which has a population of 1.9 million. He also said he would improve Gambia's relationships with the international community, rejoin the Commonwealth of former British-ruled states and the International Criminal Court.

Barrow has stayed in Senegal throughout the prolonged negotiations needed to arrange Jammeh's departure. He attended Friday prayers at a mosque with Senegalese President Macky Sall. The fears for Barrow's security were because Jammeh has long been accused by human rights groups of heading a government that tortured opponents and silenced dissent. Many Gambians have been arbitrarily detained for years, often without access to family members or lawyers. Some people have effectively disappeared, but families cling to hope that they may still be alive, say human rights activists.

Senegal has welcomed tens of thousands of fleeing Gambians over the years. Barrow has vowed to free all political prisoners and is urging those here in Dakar and elsewhere to return to Gambia and help him reform the country long beset by dictatorship and corruption.

He already has issued a message that "the rule of fear has been vanished from the Gambia for good." "Today is a very, very important day for Gambia," he said Saturday. "Twenty-two years is a long period, and Gambians this time they are united to make this change."