The government of Gambia has expelled the European Union’s top diplomat in the West African state, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement weekend. Agnès Guillaud, the European Union’s chargée d’affaires in Banjul, was asked to leave Gambia within 72 hours, according to a statement read on Gambian national television. No reason was given. President Yahya Jammeh, 50, has ruled the tiny west African nation with a firm hand since he came to power in a coup some 20 years ago. He has stifled dissent and faces increased criticism from abroad over issues ranging from human rights to claims he can cure AIDS. He has also cracked down on the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The European Union blocked some 13 million euros in aid to Gambia in December 2014 because of its poor human rights record, in particular anti-homosexual laws, and was debating whether to release some 150 million euros ($186 million) in aid this year. An EU foreign affairs spokeswoman said the European Union was summoning the Gambian ambassador on Saturday to seek an explanation. “There appears to be no justification for the decision by the Gambian authorities. We are astonished by this announcement which came with no explanations,” the spokeswoman said.
A separate statement from the office of Gambia’s president on Friday condemned a statement last month by U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice, in which she called Jammeh’s comments and threats against homosexuals “unconscionable” and a violation of human rights. The statement from Jammeh’s office said the accusations by the U.S. government were a systematic campaign aimed at denting the image of Gambia and demonising its leadership because of its stance against homosexuality. “The Government reminds all that homosexuality is totally against the religious, cultural and traditional values of the Gambia and would thus not be tolerated,” the statement said. Gambia, a splinter of land wedged inside Senegal, is one of Africa’s smallest nations with 1.9 million people.