Gambia accuses U.S., Britain of plotting to overthrow government
BANJUL (Reuters) - Gambia has accused the United States and Britain of fomenting multiple coup attempts in the tiny West African country and supporting the opposition as part of a plot to destabilize President Yahya Jammeh's rule.
Jammeh withdrew Gambia from the Commonwealth in a surprise move last week, branding the now 53-member grouping that includes Britain and most of its former colonies a "neo-colonial institution".
In a statement read on state television by Minister for Presidential Affairs Momodou Sabally late on Tuesday, the government accused the United States and Britain of sponsoring a 1995 coup but said Gambia would not surrender its mineral resources to "old vampires and present-day locusts".
Jammeh seized power in a bloodless putsch in 1994 as a 29-year-old army lieutenant, becoming the world's youngest head of state.
"These two Western powers have continued in their relentless efforts to destabilize this country, desperately using every means possible from sponsoring coup plots to financing the opposition and mounting a vigorous smear campaign," the statement read.
The British High Commission to Gambia said Britain had never acted to destabilize the country.
"The UK is a friend of The Gambia and its people and it is in the interest of both countries to sustain a broad-based relationship founded on mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual benefit," read a statement sent to Reuters.
The U.S. embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
Sabally cited as proof of the alleged plot a proposed maritime security agreement with the United States that was recently rejected by Gambia for seeking "total control and exploitation of Gambia's territorial waters".
A sliver of a country surrounded by Senegal, Gambia is a popular destination for European sun-seekers, many of them British, with its tropical climate and white beaches. More than a third of the 1.7 million Gambians live on under $1.25 a day.
Under Jammeh's leadership, Gambia has had one of Africa's worst human rights records. The authorities are accused of intimidating and jailing journalists for criticizing the government and came under fire from Western donor nations last year when it carried out a series of executions of prisoners.
In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month, Jammeh called homosexuality a threat to human existence and criticized countries for regarding it as a human right.
(Reporting by Pap Saine; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Daniel Flynn/Mark Heinrich)