/ 17 April 2012

SA slams Guinea-Bissau military over coup d’état

The international relations and cooperation department said on Tuesday that South Africa deplores the recent coup in Guinea-Bissau.

The country was concerned the Bissauan military chose this course of action despite a joint African Union mission with the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), the department said in a statement.

The mission had warned the Bissauan army against political intervention.

The Bissauan military seized power in a coup on Thursday, and imprisoned several politicians.

“South Africa will support all Ecowas, AU and UN mandated efforts to reverse the coup d’état.”

The department said it was concerned by the army’s efforts to entrench military dominance by imposing a transitional government. South Africa urged the military to allow elections for a new president to continue, in accordance with a court ruling. It reminded the authorities they would be held accountable for any human rights violations.

“The safety and security of the imprisoned civilian politicians remains their responsibility,” the department said.

Presidential hopefuls condemn coup
Five candidates competing in Guinea-Bissau’s aborted presidential election united on Monday to condemn last week’s coup as East Timor’s Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace laureate from another Portuguese ex-colony, agreed to act as a mediator.

The April 12 military coup tipped the restive impoverished West African country into fresh chaos and interrupted a second-round presidential vote on April 29.

For its part the junta insisted on Monday that it was in control of the situation in the country and urged the population not to panic.

The validity of the presidential vote was already uncertain after five candidates, including first-round runner-up Kumba Yala, denounced the results as fraudulent and declared a boycott.

Speaking on behalf of the boycotting candidates, Yala told a press conference on Monday: “We firmly condemn the April 12 military uprising and demand the quick return of constitutional order.”

Yala came a distant second in the March 18 first-round vote to then-prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior, currently being detained by the coup leaders.

Despite international calls for the run-off to go ahead, the army has dissolved all existing institutions and declared a national transitional council together with opposition parties.

None of the five candidates who boycotted the presidential vote will participate in the transitional government, Henrique Rosa, one of the candidates, said on Monday.

The coup leaders have meanwhile accepted an offer from Ramos-Horta, East Timor’s outgoing president and Nobel peace prize winner, to act as a mediator in the crisis, according to his advisor.

Guinea-Bissau and East Timor are both former Portuguese colonies.

Ramos-Horta had offered to mediate at the weekend, “and the junta replied and accepted” on Monday, said Jose Meirelles, the president’s senior advisor.

“All that remains to be settled is the date he leaves, and the only condition is that nothing bad happens to anyone,” he said.

International attention
The Portuguese-speaking world’s two major players, Portugal and Brazil, have meanwhile asked the UN security council to put the Guinea-Bissau crisis on its agenda, Portugal’s Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said on Monday.

A team of political and military big-wigs from Ecowas arrived in Bissau late on Monday for talks on the crisis.

Ecowas has slammed the coup and called for the presidential election to be put back on track.

The 15-nation regional bloc said its crisis team would arrive in Bissau Monday with a “special message reiterating its rejection of the coup”.

The team is led by Ecowas commission president Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, and also includes ministers and military leaders from around the region.

The secretary general of French-speaking bloc OIF also called Monday for the second-round vote to be held quickly, and for “the politicians detained by force to be freed immediately”.

Guinea-Bissau, a country of 1.6-million people, has a history of military coups and has become a hub in the drug trade between South America and Europe.

Late on Monday the army issued a statement saying it “was aware of a panic situation among the population after the military uprising” on April 12 and appealed for “calm because the situation is under the control of the military command and the chief of staff”.

It also denounced “rumours” that Guinea-Bissau was under threat of a foreign attack.

Meanwhile dozens of families were reported trying to leave the capital Bissau for fear of an eruption of violence.

The junta had announced on Sunday it was closing all air and sea borders, after Portugal said it was sending navy ships and a plane for possible evacuation of its nationals.

The country’s main labour union called a general strike on Monday to protest the coup.

Many offices and banks in the capital were closed, though small businesses were still open.

“No one is working,” Stevon Gomis, secretary general of the Guinea-Bissau National Workers’ Union (UNTG), said. “We will stay home until there’s a government in place.” — AFP