Guinea-Bissau coup attempt fails


At least seven people died during a coup attempt in Guinea-Bissau’s capital yesterday, which was put down by the army. The country has accused Portugal of being behind the attack, the latest in the restive West African country.

The tiny former Portuguese colony on Africa’s west coast is in the midst of a messy recovery after the army overthrew the government in April, derailing elections midstream, and diplomatic and military sources said the violence may have been orchestrated by supporters of the self-exiled former premier.
“It appears to have been a failed counter-coup,” one diplomatic source said of Sunday’s attack, asking not to be named.

Military sources said “rebels” had attacked the airforce base in Bra, about 7 kilometers (5 miles) from the capital Bissau at about 3 am on Sunday morning but were repelled after two hours of fighting.
“There was an exchange of Kalashnikov fire and then the rebels took refuge in a building near the base,” a military source said on condition of anonymity.

He said government soldiers used rocket-propelled grenades on the building before killing several of the attackers. A Reuters witness saw six bodies near the base.

Witnesses said the army had set up checkpoints and was checking vehicles on the main road leaving Bissau, but added that the capital appeared otherwise calm.

The same military source said that some of the attackers appeared to be from an ethnic group, Djolla, common in neighboring Senegal’s southern Casamance region.

Government spokesman Fernando Vaz said that the main suspect in the attempted coup is Pansau Ntchama, an ex-bodyguard of Guinea Bissau’s former army chief of staff. He led a commando unit that assassinated president Joao Bernardo Vieira in 2009.
“He is a man with political ambitions living in Portugal,” Vaz said. “He appeared here in order to carry out this attempted coup…He flew to Gambia, and then he went to Angola to pick up arms…He has fled into the bush, but we are confident that we will catch him.”
“The government considers Portugal, the CPLP (the Community of Portuguese Language Countries) and Carlos Gomes Junior as the instigators of this attempt at destabilisation,” said a statement read out Vaz. The government said the attackers wanted to overthrow the transitional government, undermine the political process and bring Gomes Junior back to power.

Decades of turmoil in Guinea-Bissau since it became independent in 1974 have made its maze of mangrove-lined islands a hub for Latin American drugs cartels smuggling cocaine to Europe.

Elections earlier this year were meant to put the country on the road to stability and to improve its chances of clamping down on drugs trafficking, but instead triggered more chaos after the army detained poll front-runner and former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior before the second round.

The junta said Gomes Junior had a secret pact with Angola, which had a contingent of soldiers in Bissau at the time, to eliminate the military’s leadership.

Gomes Junior fled into exile in Portugal after being released under international pressure, while several of his allies took refuge in Gambia, a sliver of land sandwiched by northern and southern Senegal.

Led by General Antonio Injai, the junta has since handed power to a transitional civilian government charged with setting up elections, though international divisions over its legitimacy have stalled progress.

Diplomatic and military sources said the fighting on Sunday may have been launched by Gomes Junior supporters, incensed that the military had blocked his widely anticipated election win.

Guinea-Bissau’s interim president Manuel Sherifo Nhamadjo has backing from West African regional block ECOWAS – which has played a leading role in mediating the crisis.

But Nhamadjo lacks the full support of the United Nations, the European Union and the CPLP grouping of Portuguese-speaking countries who say his government remains under army influence.

U.N. Special Representative to Guinea-Bissau Joseph Mutaboba said he was seeking more information on the incident from Guinea-Bissau’s Defence Department as well as from ECOWAS, which has a 600-strong stabilization force in the country.

He said he had contacted ECOWAS to “express our concern over possible political and security implications and offer the U.N.’s assistance if needed by the local population.”

Since becoming independent from Portugal in 1974, no president of Guinea-Bissau has ever completed a full term in office.