Fresh turmoil in Guinea Bissau

November 23, 2008 12:00 am

, BISSAU, November 23 – Guinea Bissau is once again in turmoil with an apparent mutiny against the president one week after parliamentary elections the international community hoped would bring stability.

Early Sunday morning soldiers fired at the residence of Guinea Bissau’s president Joao Bernardo Vieira, who called neighbouring Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade to warn him.

"There was a mutiny. Guinea-Bissau’s president called President Wade to inform him that soldiers opened fire on his residence," Wade’s spokesman El Hadji Amadou Sall told AFP.

From Guinea Bissau, a source in the interior ministry said at least one of the alleged attackers was killed while several soldiers loyal to the president were wounded.

"We have noted one dead from the side of the attackers and several wounded in our ranks," an interior ministry official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.

"We succeeded in arresting several soldiers," he added.

A source in the general staff of the army in Guinea Bissau said the situation was under control Sunday.

The area where the president lives "is entirely controlled by our troops," the source, who would not give his name, said.

"A group of soldiers last night tried to get hold of an arms depot in the president’s residence. There was an exchange of gunfire," the official said.

He added that three of the attacking soldiers were arrested but the others made off with some weapons including rocket launchers.

The unrest follows exactly one week after parliamentary elections in the tiny West African country. Provisional official results released on Friday showed the vote was won by the dominant African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).

The international community also sees the elections as a crucial step in rebuilding the country a decade after it was torn apart by civil war in 1998 and 1999.

Guinea Bissau has been plagued by a series of bloody coups and uprisings, and in recent years has become a key African drugs hub.

PAIGC, which has dominated the political landscape since the west African nation gained independence from Portugal in 1974, bagged 67 out of the 100 parliamentary seats, the national electoral commission said.

President Vieira first ruled the country from 1980 to 1999 with support from the army and the PAIGC party. He went into exile following a civil war before returning in 2004 and being re-elected a year later.

Experts say the newly formed Republican Party for Independence and Development (PRID), formed with the backing of President Vieira, failed in these elections, winning only three seats, as voters did not want the head of state becoming too powerful.

Guinea Bissau languishes at the bottom of the United Nations development index, only 37 percent of the population has been to school and the country is currently battling a cholera epidemic.

International experts say the country does not have strong enough state institutions to take on the international drugs cartels which use it as a hub to transport South American cocaine to the lucrative European market.

According to experts, Guinea Bissau, which lists cashew exports as its biggest source of income, is in danger of becoming Africa’s first "narco-state," controlled by drugs traffickers.


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