The United States warned Guinea Bissau it could not help in international efforts to reform its armed forces unless they were purged of suspected leaders of the growing West African drugs trade.
The United States earlier this year named among suspected narcotics kingpins the former navy chief of staff Bubo Na Tchuto, who analysts say has regained influence over the military since returning from exile last year.
“It will be impossible for the United States to contribute to the security and defence reform process if these or other individuals implicated in narcotics trafficking … serve in positions of authority in the armed forces,” a statement issued by the US embassy in Dakar, Senegal said.
It added that the continued detention of armed forces chief Jose Zamora Induta by soldiers loyal to leaders of a successful April 1 mutiny “calls into question the Government’s control of the armed forces”.
Na Tchuto is an ally of mutiny leader General Antonio Njai and is seen ready to step into a leadership vacuum left by a dispute between President Malam Bacai Sanha and reformist Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, an ardent anti-drugs activist.
The United States, former colonial power Portugal, the European Union and others have been involved in long-term efforts to reform an army seen as having disproportionate and destabilising sway over the country of 1.6 million since 1974 independence.
Traffickers have identified West Africa with its often weak security structures as an ideal staging post for Latin American drugs en route to Europe.
In a rare public success against the trade, police in nearby Gambia this month seized 2.34 tonnes of cocaine bound for Europe and arrested a dozen suspected traffickers following a joint operation with British detectives.
Speaking at the passing-out parade of new army recruits in the Gambian capital Banjul yesterday, President Yahya Jammeh warned that anyone found having ties with the drugs trade would face stiff sentences at the Mile 2 prison.
“West Africa is becoming synonymous with drugs, but Gambia would be an exception… If anyone is caught, you should book a place in Mile 2. I don’t care who is involved in drugs, not even my uncle or my mother — I swear to God I will deal with them.”
Pic: Guinea Bissau troops