Guinea-Bissau President Malam Bacai Sanha sought to resolve a dispute between his prime minister and the general who seized control of the armed forces in the latest instability to threaten the fragile state.
Last Thursday’s overthrow of the armed forces chief and brief detention of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior drew attacks from the United Nations and West African neighbours as analysts warned of further unrest due to army meddling in politics.
The new military chiefs denied a coup bid on a country which is a major drug trafficking route to Europe, and the civilian leadership has played down the incident as military infighting.
“I was democratically elected. I will continue to do my job as prime minister,” Gomes Junior said after a round of talks with Sanha at the presidential palace.
“The events of yesterday were just a one-off. I think that the situation has already been resolved and the institutions will work normally.”
Thursday’s events follow the twin assassination last year of the previous army chief and president and are the latest case of political interference by a military which prides itself on having wrested 1974 independence from Portugal.
“It can’t be seen as just an internal army matter. It isn’t over,” said one diplomat in the capital Bissau, noting new chief of staff General Antonio Njai’s threat lastThursday to kill Gomes and supporters who protested at his brief detention.
“The army is in a reasonable mess. We don’t know what they will do next,” he added.
Thursday’s incident was preceded by the re-emergence, from refuge in a UN building, of former navy chief Bubo Na Tchuto, an ally of Njai who was accused of plotting a 2008 coup and was due to be handed over to Gomes’s government for trial.
There is concern the command grab could undermine Sanha’s efforts to bring stability to the country since soldiers assassinated his predecessor Joao Bernardo Vieira in March 2009.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Guinea-Bissau’s factions to resolve their differences through peaceful means.
West Africa’s ECOWAS bloc warned in a statement the timing of the instability “could not have been any worse”, as Sanha had started to win international support for his reform efforts.
Central to these reforms will be reining in the military, which regional rights group RADDHO said enjoyed impunity and was to blame for the cycles of killings and reprisals.
“The army is the real gangrene of Guinea-Bissau,” said the Senegal-based organisation in a statement.
The instability in Guinea-Bissau, whose meagre $400 million-a-year formal economy is based on cashews and phosphates, has not tended to spill over to neighbouring Senegal or its equally unstable larger neighbour Guinea.
But it has become a hub for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Latin American cocaine trafficked into Europe, and US officials fear it risks becoming “narco-state”, where drug-linked violence and money erode all rule of law.
Pic: Guinea Bissau troops