Soldiers in Guinea Bissau attacked and sealed off the residence of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr, weeks before an election in which he was the front-runner, according to a military official familiar with the situation.
Shots were fired at Gomes Jr’s home and he is currently being held by the military, said the official, who declined to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak to reporters. Gomes Jr won 49 percent of votes cast in the country’s presidential election on March 18, not enough for a first-round victory. A run-off vote was set for April 29.
The West African nation, which borders Senegal and Guinea, relies on cashew nuts for export earnings, though cocaine trafficking from Latin America to Europe using Guinea Bissau as a transit point is a lucrative trade, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The election is being held to replace former President Malam Bacai Sanha, who died of complications from diabetes in January.
“We strongly condemn the attempt by certain elements of the military to undermine the legitimate civilian leadership of Guinea Bissau,” Mark Toner, a U.S. State Department spokesman, told reporters today in Washington. He urged “all parties to put down their weapons, release government leaders immediately and restore legitimate civilian leadership.”
The soldiers, who call themselves the Military Command, acted to halt an alleged aggression from Angola, which has a military presence in the country, Portuguese broadcaster SIC Noticias reported, citing a statement from the troops. Their ambition is not to take over power, SIC Noticias said.
‘Hidden Agreement’ Suspected
“Officially, the Angolans were in Bissau to help with army reform, but many thought there was some kind of hidden agreement between the Angolans and Carlos Gomes Jr,” Vincent Foucher, a researcher at Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said by phone from Dakar, Senegal. “This is a military intervention against the most powerful person in the country.”
Angola, which had been providing military training and advice to Guinea Bissau since 2010, announced on April 10 it planned to end its mission there at the request of the country’s military.
The mission was agreed on after the 2009 assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieira and army chief General Batista Tagme Na Waie.
A post-coup administration “would likely seek to reduce Angola’s economic footprint in the country,” which may lead to delays at a $500 million bauxite mine and a deep-water port being developed by the southern African nation in Guinea Bissau, according to a statement from London-based Exclusive Analysis Ltd., a risk analysis company.
The Military Command summoned all political parties in Guinea Bissau for a meeting to find a solution to the current crisis, according to the African service of Portuguese state radio, RDP-Africa, which cited a statement from the soldiers.
“Whatever grievances the military may have had that prompted them to take these actions can be redressed through dialogue,” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said in an e- mailed statement.
The Economic Community of West African States, the regional grouping of 15 countries including Guinea Bissau, denounced the attacks in an e-mailed statement today.
The “flagrant defiance of the community’s principle of zero tolerance for power obtained by” coups “cannot go unpunished,” Ecowas Commission President Desire Ouedraogo, said in the statement.
“If the international community does not take a clear, firm and determined position, the current military rulers in Guinea will continue to be a source of violence, instability, suffering and impoverishment of the Guinean people,” Anibal Cavaco Silva, president of the former colonial ruler Portugal, said today in Lisbon.
The U.S. State Department advised its nationals in Bissau to avoid the city’s downtown, while the U.K. Foreign Office said people should stay “in a safe place,” according to a statement.
To contact the reporters on this story: Henrique Almeida in Lisbon at firstname.lastname@example.org; Armando Lona in Bissau via Accra at email@example.com
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