Soldiers briefly held Guinea Bissau’s prime minister on Thursday and ousted the army chief of staff in the latest military infighting to hit the West African country, which is a major drugs trafficking hub to Europe.
Their action was not an attempt to overthrow the government, said a statement issued by the military in the former Portuguese colony, one of the world’s poorest nations.
“The leadership of the armed forces reaffirms its submission to the political power, the institutions of the republic, and calls for calm and for security of the population,” said the statement.
President Malam Bacai Sanha declared the situation under control and said he would try to mediate in the dispute that had erupted within the military.
“The situation is already under control. There was a problem between soldiers which spilled over into the civilian government,” Sanha said after meeting the new commanders in charge of the army.
“I will use my influence to find a friendly solution to this problem between soldiers,” said Sanha, who has made tentative steps towards restoring order since renegade soldiers killed his predecessor João Bernardo Vieira in March 2009.
Earlier, a Reuters witness said armed soldiers walked into the UN compound in the capital Bissau and emerged with former navy chief Bubo Na Tchuto, who had sought refuge there after being suspected of leading a 2008 coup attempt.
The same group of soldiers briefly detained Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior and said they had ousted armed forces chief of staff Admiral José Zamora Induta, replacing him with his deputy, General Antonio Njai.
The military’s statement said Induta had stockpiled weapons in his residence.
Njai declared his leadership of the military at a joint news conference with Na Tchuto and issued a warning to Gomes and his supporters, hundreds of whom had taken to the streets to demand his release.
“If the demonstrators do not leave the streets, I will kill them all, and I will kill Carlos Gomes Junior,” Njai said.
The capital was calm, with some banks and shops shutting and little traffic in the streets.
Already prone to coups and revolts, the nation has become a hub for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Latin American cocaine trafficked into Europe. Analysts say the drug trade has corrupted officials and deepened competition between factions.
The official economy relies on cashew nut exports, though the country has unexploited bauxite, phosphate and oil deposits.
A peaceful election last year had raised hopes for progress in reforming the military and instilling confidence in the weak government.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement he was “following with concern the military incidents in Guinea-Bissau involving the detention and subsequent release of the prime minister”.
The statement, issued in New York, said he called on “the military and political leadership of Guinea-Bissau to resolve differences by peaceful means and to maintain constitutional order and ensure respect for the rule of law”. – Reuters