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US respects Gambia’s sovereignty, says visiting state department official

Dec 12, 2013, 9:07 AM | Article By: Halimatou Ceesay

A visiting official of the United States Department of State currently in The Gambia has told journalists that the US respects the sovereignty of The Gambia and has good relations with the country.

Stephen Schwartz, Director of the Office of West African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State was responding to questions at a press conference held at the American Corner yesterday, regarding recent accusations by the Gambia government that the US government is mounting a smear campaign against The Gambia.

Noting that he is not aware of any such campaigns mounted by the US government, the State Department official said The Gambia and the United States of America have a very good and cordial relationship dating back many years.

Schwartz will be meeting with government officials and members of civil society on the bilateral relationship.

He will hold a press conference with the media to speak on and answer questions about ties between the U.S. and The Gambia, the purpose of his trip, and President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative.

Commenting on the role of the media, Mr. Schwartz told journalists that the media play a vital role in a country, and it is through the media that people can learn about what is happening.

While expressing his appreciation for the Gambian military’s contribution to peacekeeping missions, the US official said the country’s troops have contributed a lot to stabilize peace in other countries.

Commenting on the Young African Leaders Initiative launched by President Barack Obama in 2010, to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa, Mr. Schwartz described it as a success, and promised that the initiative will get bigger in 2014.

According to him, applications are open to every person between the ages of 25 to 35, and it will close by January 2014.

It would be recalled that the Gambian government in October 2013 accused Washington and former colonial power Britain of leading a “shameless campaign of lying” against it.

In a statement issued then, the government lashed out at its “enemies” whom, it said, had concocted lies about its human rights record.

The statement said Britain and the United States had backed “so-called Gambians to set up organisations and media facilities to spread nothing but lies against The Gambia by making false, outrageous and unfounded statements about the state of human rights.”

‘‘These people and institutions specialize in lying and providing false attestations for would-be asylum seekers using the main opposition party (UDP) as a platform for such nefarious activities, thereby casting a very bad and negative image of both the Government and noble people of The Gambia,’’ it stated.

According to the government statement, such campaign is mounted both at home and abroad, providing fake attestations for members of their party to migrate abroad to seek asylum, with total disregard to the damage they cause to the prestige and good image of the people of The Gambia.

The statement said that Gambia’s human rights record was “much better” than that of Britain and the United States put together.