The United Nations Security Council on Thursday backed efforts by West African states to ensure Gambian President Adama Barrow assumes power from Yahya Jammeh, but stressed that it should be pursued by political means first.
West African regional bloc ECOWAS said it would remove Jammeh if he did not hand over power. Senegalese troops entered neigbouring Gambia on Thursday, an army spokesman said shortly after the Security Council vote.
Barrow won an election in early December and the mandate of Jammeh, who has been in power since a 1994 coup, ended on Thursday. Overnight talks to persuade Jammeh to stand down failed despite his increasing political isolation.
Jammeh initially conceded to Barrow but then back-tracked, saying the vote was flawed and there had to be a re-run. Barrow was sworn in at Gambia's embassy in Senegal on Thursday.
Gambians took to the streets in their dozens on Thursday to celebrate the swearing-in of Barrow on television live from Senegal, AFP reported.
Young men shouted and sang while hanging out of cars, as children danced with their mothers on main roads near to the capital, Banjul, where Jammeh was believed to remain despite the expiry of his mandate.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that expressed "its full support to the ECOWAS in its commitment to ensure, by political means first, the respect of the will of the people of The Gambia as expressed in the results of 1st December elections."
The initial Senegalese draft text circulated on Wednesday would have had the council support "ECOWAS in its commitment to take all necessary measures" to install Barrow. But that language was softened to win unanimous support, diplomats said.
The council did not need to formally authorize a military intervention in Gambia because Barrow requested ECOWAS help.
"Nothing in this resolution should be interpreted as authorization for the express use of force," Uruguay's U.N. Ambassador Elbio Rosselli told the council after the vote.
Bolivia's U.N. Ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorentty Soliz echoed Rosselli, saying the resolution could not be seen as "support or endorsement for the use of force."
The council resolution asked "the Gambian defence and security forces to demonstrate maximum restraint to maintain an atmosphere of calm in the Gambia and stresses their duty and obligation to place themselves at the disposal of the democratically elected authorities."
It also requested Jammeh to carry our a peaceful transfer of power.
Farhan Haq, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said on Thursday: "The U.N. supports regional efforts aimed at resolving the crisis peacefully."