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EU warns 'response' on Gambia executions
by Staff Writers
Brussels (UPI) Aug 28, 2012

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The European Union has threatened "an appropriate response" against Gambia in the wake of reports of executions carried out by the country's government.

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton issued a statement Sunday demanding a halt to the alleged execution of prisoners as reported by human rights group Amnesty International.

The group said Gambian President Yahya Jammeh carried out the executions of eight men and a woman Thursday after he announced plans to kill all death row prisoners by mid-September.

"By the middle of next month, all the death sentences would have been carried out to the letter; there is no way my government will allow 99 percent of the population to be held to ransom by criminals," Jammeh said in an speech.

There were 45 men and two women on death row in Gambia, including three men sentenced this year, Amnesty International said. Under Gambian law, murder and treason are the only capital crimes.

"I strongly condemn the executions which have reportedly taken place (Thursday), following President Jammeh's stated intention to carry out all death penalties before mid-September," Ashton's statement said. "I demand the immediate halt of the executions."

The EU foreign affairs chief noted that Gambia -- a former British colony that became independent in 1965 -- is a signatory to the Cotonou Agreement, which governs the relationships between the European Union and the African states.

Under the terms of the treaty, signatories are expected to adhere to the European Union's human rights standards, which include a ban on capital punishment, and could face a reduction in development cooperation through the European Development Fund if violations occur.

Gambia is to receive $97.5 million in EU aid under a five-year grant ending in 2013.

"In light of these executions, the European Union will urgently consider an appropriate response," Ashton's statement said.

Her reaction followed a condemnation by British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt of the reported executions, who said Saturday: "I am deeply concerned over reports that nine prisoners on death row in The Gambia have been executed following comments by President Jammeh that all death row prisoners would now be executed.

"The Gambia has not carried out any executions since 1981. I urge the Gambian authorities to halt any further executions. The U.K. government opposes all use of the death penalty as a matter of principle."

Benin Foreign Minister Nassirou Bako Arifari told the BBC he had been dispatched to Gambia by President Thomas Boni Yayi, current chairman of the African Union, to assess the situation.

"After having learned of the imminent execution of a number of prisoners sentenced to death, President Yayi, who is very concerned, wished that President Yahya Jammeh not carry out such a decision," he said.

Gambia hadn't commented on Amnesty International's claims about the executions as of Sunday but the Voice of America said conflicting reports about their accuracy had emerged.

A group called the Civil Society Associations of Gambia confirmed Amnesty International's report, asserting the bodies of the prisoners were seen lying in the yard of Gambia's central prison Friday.

But Alioune Tine, president of the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights in neighboring Senegal, told VOA that "so far, nobody was executed," claiming his information came from Gambian opposition members, local journalists and the foreign ministers of Gambia and Benin.

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