DAKAR (Reuters) - Gambian authorities have refused the European Union access to observe upcoming elections, an EU spokesman said on Friday, amid concerns about the fairness of the voting process in the tiny West African nation.
The EU had been ready to deploy a small team to provide what it described as a "technical assessment" of the Dec. 1 vote. An EU source said that Gambia's election commission had signaled last week a willingness to allow the EU to participate, as it had done in the previous election in 2011.
"We have been informed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Gambia that the mission was not accepted," the spokesman said.
A Gambian government spokesman did not respond to repeated requests for comment. An official at the electoral commission told Reuters that African Union observers had been accredited to attend the elections.
President Yahya Jammeh and opposition leaders have begun two weeks of final campaigning across the former British colony.
Eight opposition parties have rallied behind one candidate, businessman Adama Barrow, in a bid to end Jammeh's 22-year rule, which activists and diplomats say has been marred by human rights abuses and repression.
Jammeh said last week all observers were welcome to come and observe "the credibility of the electoral process".
Visiting Gambia last week, the top U.N. regional official for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, called for transparency and a "level playing field" for the vote.
At the last election in 2011, regional African bloc ECOWAS refused to send observers, citing intimidation of the opposition and the electorate.
Worries have been stoked this year by the treatment of opposition politicians. Nearly 50 protesters were arrested in April and May, including UDP party leader Ousainu Darboe and at least 18 other senior members. Two have since died during their detention.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Joe Bavier and Mark Heinrich)