Senegal summons Gambian ambassador over executions

DAKAR Tue Aug 28, 2012 7:42pm EDT

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DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegalese President Macky Sall said on Tuesday that he has summoned Gambia's ambassador after confirming that two of its nationals were among nine prisoners executed by firing squad in neighboring Gambia amid international outcry.

Sall joined international appeals for Gambia to halt a series of planned executions of death row prisoners which includes a third Senegalese citizen.

"I have asked the prime minister to summon the ambassador of The Gambia tomorrow to notify the position of the state of Senegal. If he does not come at the appointed time, he will leave Senegal," Sall told a news conference late on Tuesday.

The executions, more of which are planned in coming weeks, could upset delicate ties between the two poor West African neighbors just as Sall seeks Gambia's cooperation to end the separatist conflict in Senegal's Casamance region.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh vowed this month to execute all of 40-plus death row inmates by mid-September "to ensure that criminals get what they deserve." His announcement drew condemnation from the African Union, the European Union, Britain, Germany, France and human rights groups.

The United States also condemned "the lack of transparency and haste" of the executions and an apparent lack of due process leading to the death sentences.

Gambia confirmed on Monday it had executed six civilians and three members of the army for a variety of crimes which, it said, all involved murder.

Rights group Amnesty International, said in a statement that the 38 people still on death row faced imminent risk of execution, adding that there were concerns most of them were convicted after unfair trials.

"Some were sentenced after being tried on politically motivated charges and have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment to force confessions," said Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International's deputy director for Africa.

"HALT EXECUTIONS"

The U.N. special rapporteur on arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, said the executions were a step backward for the West African nation, which has had a 27-year moratorium on the death penalty and abolished capital punishment for drug offences in April 2011.

Heyns also raised concern over the trials and the execution of the sentences.

"According to available evidence the trials did not meet due process safeguards," Heyns said in a statement.

"The executions were carried out in secrecy, away from the public and from the families, and do not meet the requirements of transparency."

In Washington, the State Department said it was "greatly concerned" by the executions and called on Jammeh's government to stop them, pending further review.

"The United States calls on President Jammeh to immediately halt all executions in order to review all of The Gambia's capital cases and ensure that they are in accordance with The Gambia's domestic law and its international obligations," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, has long faced criticism over his rights record in a country that attracts British sun-seekers with its tropical climate and white beaches.

In common with a number of African states, Gambia has the death penalty but until now has rarely used it. Amnesty said the last execution there was in 1985.

It is unclear why Jammeh, who won re-election last year in a poll that regional groups said had been marred by intimidation of voters and opponents, is pressing ahead with executions now.

One of Africa's most controversial rulers, Jammeh announced in 2007 that he had a herbal concoction that cured AIDS, but only on Thursdays, a statement derided by health experts.

Senegal's Sall, who saw off incumbent Abdoulaye Wade in a March presidential election, has sought to enlist Gambian cooperation to end a low-intensity separatist rebellion in the Casamance region that skirts Senegal's neighbor.

(Additional reporting by David Lewis and Andrew Quinn in Washington; Writing by Mark John and Bate Felix; Editing by Michael Roddy and Christopher Wilson)

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