BANJUL, Gambia – Gambia's government is cutting off economic, political and social ties with Iran and expects Iranian government officials to leave the tiny West African nation by Wednesday.
Gambia's Foreign Ministry did not say why it was abruptly severing relations, but a senior Gambian security official said Tuesday the move was linked to Nigeria's recent seizure of arms sent from Iran which were allegedly destined for Gambia. The official declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Habib Jarra, permanent secretary at Gambia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denied the weapons seizure was part of the decision, but he gave no other explanation.
Iran's ambassador to Gambia also offered no explanation and said the news was a "surprise."
The Iranian state news agency IRNA, meanwhile, cited Alaeddin Broujerdi, who heads Iran Foreign Policy parliamentary commission, as saying the United States had pressured Gambia to cut relations with Iran because "Iran's growing ties with African countries had caused concern in the U.S. and its allies."
A Gambian Foreign Ministry statement issued Monday gave Iranian government officials 48 hours to leave the country.
Artillery rockets and other weapons, loaded in 13 shipping containers that were labeled as building supplies, were seized on Oct. 26 at a port in Lagos, Nigeria. Nigeria's security service said the shipment, which originated in Iran, may have been destined for Nigerian politicians intending violence if they lose in upcoming elections.
The shipment sat untouched for weeks, a common occurrence at the port, and the Iranian shipper filed a request for the containers to be picked up again and shipped to the West African nation of Gambia.
Iran's foreign minister said at the time the issue had been a "misunderstanding" that had been settled.
Gambia, a former British colony, is a tiny sliver of land surrounded on three sides by Senegal. Gambian President Yahya Jammeh grabbed power in a 1994 coup and has a reputation for authoritarian rule and cracking down harshly on decent.
In 2006, Jammeh hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at an African summit in the capital, Banjul. The visit was seen as an attempt to drum up support from developing nations its standoff with the United States and Europe over its nuclear program.
Associated Press writer Brian Murphy contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.