Automatic gunfire and the crump of heavier explosions rang out in Guinea-Bissau's capital Bissau early on Monday, a Reuters witness said.
Automatic gunfire and the crump of heavier explosions rang out in Guinea-Bissau’s capital Bissau early on Monday, a Reuters witness said, hours after the tiny West African state’s armed forces chief was killed in an attack.
The gunfire appeared to be coming from the direction of the military headquarters in Bissau city where General Batista Tagme Na Wai, the chief of staff, was killed in an attack on Sunday evening. It was not immediately clear who was shooting.
Na Wai served in a military junta that overthrew military ruler Joao Bernardo “Nino” Vieira in the 1990s and had been critical of the veteran ruler since Vieira was voted back to the presidency in 2005.
“It is confirmed that he was killed,” a diplomat told Reuters early on Monday after an explosion rocked the armed forces headquarters late on Sunday.
A Reuters witness said that part of the military headquarters building was destroyed in that attack and saw five wounded, who appeared to be military officers, being taken away to hospital.
The latest clash between rival armed factions highlighted the chronic instability of the former Portuguese colony.
The country of just 1,6-million people has suffered years of coups and civil strife and has been used in the past few years as a conduit for smuggling Latin American cocaine to Europe.
Diplomats and local journalists said Na Wai had been in the building for a meeting with senior officers when the explosion occurred.
Army troops encircled the area and were searching for the assailants, whose identity was unclear. Bissau’s streets fell quiet after Sunday evening’s attack, but automatic fire and heavier explosions started up before dawn.
Military officers ordered two private radio stations in the capital Bissau to cease broadcasting and state television also stopped broadcasting after Sunday’s attack.
“For the security of the journalists, you must close the radio station and stop broadcasting. It’s for your own safety,” armed forces spokesperson Samuel Fernandes told reporters at Radio Bombolom, a private station in Bissau.
“We are going to pursue the attackers and avenge ourselves,” he said.
In early January, the armed forces command said militiamen hired to protect President Vieira had shot at Na Wai.
A member of the militia denied the shooting had been an assassination attempt, but the armed forces command nevertheless ordered the militia be disbanded.
The 400-strong force had been recruited as Vieira’s personal bodyguard by the Interior Ministry after the president was targeted in a machinegun and rocket-propelled grenade attack on his residence on November 23 last year.
Vieira survived the raid, carried out by dissident soldiers.
Analysts say political instability has been exacerbated in the past few years as Latin American drugs gangs have taken advantage of Guinea-Bissau’s poorly policed coastline and remote airstrips to smuggle cocaine through Africa to Europe.
They say well-resourced drug cartels with access to weapons, speedboats and planes have been able to secure cooperation from senior officials in the armed forces and government in one of the world’s poorest countries, whose main export is cashew nuts. -Reuters