/ 2 March 2009

Unrest feared after Guinea-Bissau president’s killing

The African Union and former colonial power Portugal on Monday led calls condemning the assassination of Guinea-Bissau’s President Joao Bernardo Vieira, which sparked alarm at instability in West Africa.

”I was deeply shocked this morning to hear of the assassination of the president of the republic of Guinea-Bissau, Nino Vieira. The AU and myself firmly condemn this criminal act,” said Jean Ping, the AU’s top executive, using Vieira’s nickname.

Portugal said it ”profoundly regrets the death of President ‘Nino’ Vieira” and ”strongly condemns this attack, like all the acts of violence committed in Guinea-Bissau since Sunday, which also led to the death of the chief of staff of the armed forces, General Tagme Na Waie”, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The small West African nation was a Portuguese colony until 1974 and Vieira had been a leader in the war for independence.

Guinea-Bissau soldiers gunned down the veteran president as he fled his home on Monday, a military spokesperson said, adding that the army blamed Vieira, 69, for the death of their leader Tagme in a bomb attack on Sunday.

Ping deplored the events in Guinea-Bissau as the latest in a string of recent coups on the continent.
”It’s sad to observe that in such a short time, we have recorded three coups in West Africa. It’s very alarming,” he said.

Coups also took place in Guinea and Mauritania in 2008.

The head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc deplored the situation in Guinea-Bissau, saying it amounted to an ”assassination of democracy”.

”We want to consolidate democracy, peace and security in this region [West Africa]. The death of a president, of a chief of staff, is very grave news,” said Mohamed Ibn Chambas of ECOWAS.

”It’s not only the assassination of a president or a chief of staff, it’s the assassination of democracy,” said Chambas.

A human rights group in Dakar declared there was a ”culture of assassinations” in Guinea-Bissau and a need to reform the army there as in the other two countries where coups recently took place.

”The armies are very politicised and have been in power for a long time,” said Alioune Tine, head of the African human rights watchdog Raddho.

The AU’s Ping said he was ”holding consultations with regional leaders to find a way out of the crisis”, reiterating the pan-African body’s condemnation of any attempt to seize power through unconstitutional means.

Meanwhile Guinea-Bissau’s army on Monday said it would respect ”constitutional order” and called on the population to remain calm following the assassinations of the president and the army chief of staff.

”The army, faithful to its duty, will respect constitutional order and democracy,” according to a statement issued by the military after senior officers met early Monday.

The statement confirmed the killing of General Tagme Na Waie on Sunday and the ”death of President Nino Vieira”.

President Kgalema Motlanthe on Monday expressed outrage at the murder of Vieira.

”South Africa and indeed the entire Southern African Development Community [SADC] region were indeed shocked to learn of the callous murder of the democratically elected President of Guinea-Bissau,” said Motlanthe in a statement.

He added that no amount of words could fully express the international community’s outrage and condemnation of such ”heinous acts”. — Sapa-AFP