Thursday, May 17, 2018

Senegalese military incursion into Gambian territory in hot pursuit of timber traffickers is apparently legal

Barrow and Sall (January 2017) 
Few days ago, Gambians greeted the sight of the incursion of fully armed Senegalese troops, deep inside Gambian territory, with anger, consternation and great degree of skepticism.

The military action, in hot pursuit of timber traffickers from Senegal into Gambian territory signals the first time a little known protocol, as part of a broader Agreement between Senegal and The Gambia, initialled by the two presidents at the first Presidential Council Meeting held last March in Banjul.

The idea of a Presidential Council, according to our sources, was endorsed by President Barrow during his first official visit to Dakar from 2 - 4 March 2017 as President of the Coalition government in Banjul.

Is this new organ separate and distinct from Senegalo-Gambian Permanent Secretariat or is the Secretariat a subsidiary organ of the Presidential Council?  We hope these, and related questions, will be urgently answered by the two respective governments.

Senegalese forest agents and heavily armed soldiers entered Gambian territory near Bureng in Jarra as a result of an agreement between President Sall and Barrow at the last Presidential Council meeting which gives Senegalese troops the right of hot pursuit of traffickers across boundaries, according to a BBC Africa news report carried by an online Senegalese news outlet.

According to the agreement between the two countries, a reciprocal action could be taken by The Gambia to which an astute observer of Senegalo-Gambian affairs retorted with a question: how equipped and audacious is the Gambian military to stage a similar incursion deep into Senegalese territory without military reaction from our neighbor.

A policy of hot pursuit into the boundary of another country foreign poses a potential flash point with the capacity to deteriorate into armed conflict.  This, in our view, is a dangerous and unwarranted policy that requires careful reconsideration by the Coalition government of Adama Barrow.

During the incursion into Jarra Bureng, a Senegalese soldier was quoted by the same BBC Africa report saying "we will hunt down the child killers", a clear reference to the 13 young men killed in the Borofaye forest (district of Niaguis, Ziguinchor) last January, 10 of whom were killed by gunshot, two by machete and one burned to death.  These macaber acts were attributed to gangs associated with the illicit timber trade in the Casamance region.

It was this massacre in the forests around Ziguinchor  that triggered the need for Senegal to push for an agreement that will granted the Senegalese military the right of hot pursuit of traffickers into Gamban territory (in Jarra Bureng) where they seized trunks claimed to have been illegally harvested in Casamance and stored in warehouses.  Senegalese soldiers were confronted by an irate group of youths in the area who resisted orders to return the timber to Senegal.

To reiterate Senegal's position, the Senegalese President said at the last Presidential Council meeting that "illicit traffic is not only a formal violation of the law, it is also, and above all, a source of instability for society and the state, and we must make every effort to fight against it.  This scourge is a top priority, particularly in the framework of the Agreement on the Management Transboundary Resources in the Field of Forestry."

Following the three-day meeting of the Presidential Council last March, a total of six agreements were signed by the two Heads of State in the areas of security, trade, free movement of people (but not goods?), removal of unnecessary custom rules at the border, road projects, health and animal production, education including higher education.