Banjul (Gambia) (AFP) - Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh has warned that death row inmates should expect to have their sentences implemented, apparently signalling an end to a three-year unofficial moratorium on executions.
The military strongman said in a meeting with religious leaders broadcast on state television late on Friday that the move was a response to the spiralling murder rate.
"During Ramadan, someone buried her child alive. Three days before Ramadan, someone in the Upper River Region threatened to kill someone and ended up killing the individual," he said.
He did not say whether death sentences for convicts already on death row would be brought forward, but he appeared to pre-empt criticism of any move to resume executions.
"If I am driving a vehicle on the road and you decide to cross in front of the vehicle, if the vehicle knocks you down and you die, am I the one that killed you or are you the one that killed yourself?" he said.
No official crime statistics are released by the government of mainland Africa's smallest country, which is surrounded by Senegal except for a narrow strip of Atlantic coast.
Jammeh announced in August 2012 that all death row prisoners would be executed by mid-September that year.
A week later the first batch of nine convicts were executed by firing squad.
The killings caused international outrage, especially in Senegal, which had two citizens among those put to death.
Rights groups estimate another 30 convicts face the firing squad but no executions have been announced since.
Jammeh, an outspoken military officer and former wrestler, has ruled the Gambia -- which has a population of just 1.7 million -- with an iron fist since seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1994.
He is often accused of rights abuses and the suppression of free speech, and is pilloried for paranoia as he regularly reshuffles his government.
The country currently allows the death penalty only for people convicted of causing someone's death through violence or the administration of toxic substances.
The government announced in June however it would hold a referendum on expanding the list of offences punishable by death to any crime deemed sufficiently serious by parliament.
All Gambians aged over 18 will be entitled to take part in the vote, a date for which has yet to be set.