Provocative comments by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on Sunday threatened to overshadow talks with Senegal aimed at resolving a three-month border blockade.
Hours before the two countries’ foreign ministers sat down to talks in Dakar, Jammeh laid out his views on the dispute in forthright comments broadcast on state television on Saturday.
“I have no intention of going to settle the issue of the border because our border is opened,” the president said. “They closed the border and I will not negotiate with someone that closed the border.”
The border blockade, which has created shortages of essential daily items on both sides of the frontier, followed The Gambia’s decision to slap a hundred-fold hike on fees for trucks entering its territory — which is completely surrounded by Senegal.
The hike, which came without warning in February and was later reversed — has infuriated Senegalese drivers who are still blockading the border.
After mediation by Guinea’s leader Alpha Conde, a Gambian delegation agreed to meet in the Senegalese capital Dakar with the aim of re-opening their shared border to Senegalese commercial vehicles.
Jammeh is not present in Dakar having remained in Banjul to host Conde.
The Gambia’s landmass is completely surrounded by Senegal, and reliant on its larger neighbour to import many essentials.
Jammeh also claimed that it was Senegal’s population that had suffered as a result of the closure, despite reports of widespread blackouts in the Gambian capital.
“If the people in Senegal are suffering, they should blame their government and not me because they are the ones that closed the border. People are suffering and that is the truth,” he said.
In Dakar, Gambian foreign minister Neneh Mcdouall-Geye told journalists she hoped to find “lasting solutions to our issues”.
Senegal’s foreign minister Mankeur Ndiaye echoed his counterpart’s comments but said “frank exchanges” would be required “on the all the questions at hand”, including the long-delayed construction of a bridge across the river that makes up much of the Gambia’s territory.
Senegal’s militant transport trade unionists told AFP last week the blockade would continue until they had 24-hour passage across the border and clear progress on the bridge.