DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegalese President Macky Sall joined international appeals for neighboring Gambia to halt a series of planned executions of death row prisoners, confirming on Tuesday that two of nine who have already faced the firing squad were Senegalese.
The executions, more of which are planned in coming weeks, have the potential to upset delicate ties between the two poor West African neighbors just as Sall wants Gambian cooperation to end the separatist conflict in Senegal's Casamance region.
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh vowed this month to execute all of 40-plus death row inmates by mid-September "to ensure that criminals get what they deserve", drawing condemnation from the African Union, the European Union, Britain and rights groups.
"Macky Sall calls for an urgent stay of execution for all the cases," a statement issued by his office said after Gambia on Monday confirmed it had executed six civilians and three members of the army for a variety of crimes which it said all involved murder.
Sall said two of those executed were Senegalese and that a third national was still facing the firing squad.
Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, has long faced criticism over his rights record in a country that attracts British sun-seekers with its tropical climate and white beaches.
In common with a number of African states, Gambia has the death penalty but until now has rarely used it. British rights group Amnesty said the last execution there was in 1985.
It is unclear why Jammeh, who won re-election last year in a poll that regional groups said had been marked by intimidation of voters and opponents, is pressing ahead with executions now.
One of Africa's most controversial rulers, Jammeh announced in 2007 that he had a herbal concoction that cured AIDS, but only on Thursdays, a statement derided by health experts.
Sall, who saw off incumbent Abdoulaye Wade in a March presidential election, has sought to enlist Gambian cooperation to end a low-intensity separatist rebellion in the Casamance region that skirts Senegal's neighbor.
The insecurity in the region has forced thousands from their homes and killed off most of the once-thriving tourist sector in Casamance that once brought millions of dollars into the Senegalese public purse.
(Reporting by Diadie Ba; writing by Mark John; Editing by Alison Williams)