Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh flew out of the capital Banjul on Saturday and into exile after stepping down from power following a weeks-long standoff with President Adama Barrow, who won the country’s elections in early December.
Jammeh took off in an unmarked plane heading for an unspecified destination, seen off by a delegation of dignitaries and soldiers.
Jammeh had arrived at the airport in the capital Banjul on Saturday in the company of mediator Alpha Conde.
Jammeh, who took power in 1994 and stepped down overnight in the face of growing pressure from West African armies.
Prior to the prospect of an invasion, Jammeh refused to recognise he lost an election to Barrow on December 1.
At least 46,000 people have fled Gambia for Senegal since the start of the crisis fearing unrest, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR said, citing Senegalese government figures.
The West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, pledged to remove Jammeh by force if he did not step down. The group assembled a multinational military force including tanks that rolled into Gambia on Thursday.
The force moved in after Barrow’s inauguration and a unanimous vote by the UN Security Council supporting the regional efforts.
Speaking to the Associated Press on Saturday, Barrow urged caution after an online petition called for Jammeh to be arrested, and not be granted asylum.
The new president said he favours launching a “truth and reconciliation commission” to investigate possible crimes by Jammeh.
Barrow has been in Senegal for his safety during a political standoff that came to the brink of a regional military intervention.
Under heavy security, Barrow took the presidential oath of office Thursday at Gambia’s embassy in Dakar, with the backing of the international community.
Jammeh announced his intention to leave the country on Friday. “I have decided in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation,” Jammeh said.
Human rights activists demanded that Jammeh be held accountable for alleged abuses, including torture and detention of opponents.
It was those concerns about prosecution that led Jammeh to challenge the election results.
Barrow said he will return to his homeland after the outgoing president leaves and once a security sweep has been completed.
“It is not yet confirmed information, but reliable sources say he’ll be leaving today,” Barrow told AP.
“We believe he’ll go to Guinea, but we are yet to confirm 100 percent, but that’s what we believe.”