/ 19 April 2012

Guinea-Bissau junta defiant in the face of sanctions

Guinea-Bissau’s junta and opposition parties pressed on with plans for a lengthy transition on Thursday, defying international calls for a return to democracy and brushing off a sanctions threat.

After dissolving government and announcing a two-year transition period, the military rulers on Thursday re-opened the country’s borders, airport and sea port after an April 12 coup.

“In order to guarantee the movement of people and goods, the chief of staff has issued orders for all land and maritime crossings, as well as the airport and the port [in the capital Bissau] to be reopened,” the junta said in a statement.

As the junta strived to restore normalcy, the international community condemned its plan to remain in power and demanded a return to constitutional order.

The World Bank and the African Development Bank suspended development programmes to the chronically unstable nation, saying they were “halting our development operations, with the exception of emergency assistance”.

After nearly four decades of coups, counter-coups and assassinations in the continuous power struggle between army and state since an independence war, Bissau-Guineans hold little hope that a transition will lead to stability.

“I am sceptical, I have no hope for a return to peace,” said driver Alfonso Djassi. “Two years is too long, they could have had a nine-month transition period … the situation is too complicated.”

“There have been too many unsolved assassinations like that of ‘Nino’,” he added, referring to president Joao Bernardo Vieira who was killed by soldiers in 2009 a few hours after the army chief was blown up in his office by a remote-controlled bomb.

Life grows harder
As petrol runs low and banks remain closed, life grows harder for the average person on the street who had hoped the cycle of instability would end with a democratic election that was aborted by the coup.

Leading the polls after what observers said was a free and fair election first round vote, was ex-prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior, but his rivals denounced widespread fraud and were threatening to boycott the run-off poll on April 29.

With the second round vote looming, soldiers, angry over Gomes’ growing reliance on a large contingent of Angolan troops, ousted his government.

They are still holding him, interim president Raimundo Pereira and other top officials.

The International Red Cross on Thursday made a second visit to the prisoners and spokesperson Marie-Servane Desjonqueres said they appeared “in good health, they are not injured”.

The opposition denounced the coup but has negotiated an agreement with the junta which does not involve the former ruling party.

The deal confirmed the creation of a National Transition Council, which will name an interim president and government in the coming days.

It will be based on a list of pre-selected candidates chosen by the parties and approved by the junta.

“It’s a good agreement,” said Cirilo Rodrigues, head of the Socialist Party.

‘Bad interpretation’
“We have succeeded in taking power from the soldiers and that is the most important.”

He said the agreement was in line with what the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) had demanded, along with the AU, UN and former colonial power Portugal, who wanted a return to constitutional order.

But, said a diplomat based in Bissau, said: “To say that one has respected what Ecowas has asked is a bad interpretation of what has been said.

“Ecowas asked for a return to constitutional order, which means returning power to those who were elected.”

Antonio Artur Sanha of the main opposition Party for Social Renewal said he was confident the transitional authority could withstand sanctions that have been threatened by the AU.

“Ecowas, the African Union, the United Nations and other international organisations should praise Guinea-Bissau for its experience concerning power transitions.”

Junta spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Daba Na Walna told reporters that the former ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) had been invited to take part in talks but had not come.

“It excluded itself,” he said.

PAIGC secretary general Luis Olivares said the party had not taken part because the agreement was “unconstitutional and undemocratic”. — Sapa-AFP