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Gambia's Jammeh wants ICC to investigate migrant deaths

BANJUL (Reuters) - Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the deaths of African migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean by boat to Europe.

Al Hadji Yahya Jammeh, President of the Republic of the Gambia, addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 25, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Nearly 2,000 migrants had died by early May, according to the International Organization for Migration, with about 800 killed in a single shipwreck in April.

Many thousands have reached southern Europe by the sea route. Gambia, with a population of only 1.9 million, is one of the leading countries of origin of the migrants.

“We have a right to call the ICC to investigate not only cases of Gambians but the case of thousands of African young people who have died on the European coast under unusual circumstances,” Jammeh said.

Jammeh, who met visiting ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the weekend, did not say who should be investigated or for what crimes.

In his comments, broadcast on state television on Monday, he criticized rescue efforts in the Mediterranean by European nations.

“If it is not done deliberately, how is it possible that each time a vessel is capsizing, there is the Italian navy to rescue only a few people,” he said.

At the United Nations General Assembly last year, Jammeh called for an investigation of what he called the “manmade sinking, capsizing” of boats carrying Africans.

The ICC did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Jammeh has ruled Gambia with a firm hand since he came to power in a coup some 20 years ago and stifled dissent.

In a surprise move on Friday, the government ordered the European Union’s top diplomat in Gambia to leave within 72 hours.

No explanation was given for the expulsion of Agnès Guillaud, the EU’s chargée d’affaires in Banjul. A Western diplomat working in West Africa described Guillard as “very vocal”, with a reputation for standing up to Jammeh.

She left Gambia aboard a flight bound for Brussels on Monday evening.

The European Union blocked some 13 million euros ($14.6 million) in aid to Gambia in December 2014 over human rights issues, in particular anti-homosexuality laws, and is debating whether to release some 150 million euros in aid this year.

Additional reporting by Emma Farge in Dakar; writing by Joe Bavier; editing by Andrew Roche and Alan Crosby