Guinea-Bissau President Malam Bacai Sanha has dismissed concerns the armed forces were operating independently of state control, saying government institutions were “controlling them”.
Soldiers briefly held Guinea Bissau’s prime minister in April and ousted the army chief of staff in the latest military infighting to hit the West African country, which is a major drugs trafficking hub to Europe.
At the time the military said their actions were not an attempt to overthrow the government, although there is concern April’s command grab could undermine Sanha’s efforts to bring stability to the former Portuguese colony.
President Sanha, who has made tentative steps towards restoring order since renegade soldiers killed his predecessor Joao Bernado Vieira in March 2009, said while the army’s interference was a concern, he felt safe and optimistic his country would come out of its years of turmoil.
“The army is not autonomous,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a summit of French and African leaders in the southern French city of Nice. “We are controlling them.” Guinea-Bissau’s instability and the squabbling within the military have been worsened by the involvement of Colombian cocaine cartels, which have taken advantage of unpoliced islands and creeks as staging points for shipping drugs to Europe.
The UN body responsible for fighting drugs and crime has said the disappearance of many of those in Guinea-Bissau who were closest to the drug dealers had cut trafficking dramatically.
Sanha said resolving the drug trafficking problem was his “biggest challenge” and called for a united response from African countries to fight it.
“This is not a problem exclusive to Guinea-Bissau,” he said. “The only way to fight this is to join together.”