Fury at Guinea-Bissau 'mutiny'

2008-11-24 08:00

Bissau - A west African delegation was due in Bissau on Monday to show solidarity after a gun battle at the residence of Guinea-Bissau President Joao Bernardo Vieira left one suspected mutineer dead and several government soldiers wounded, an attack that drew international outrage.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was among those expressing strong concern and condemnation of Sunday's incident which came just a week after elections intended to bring stability to the west African nation, one of the smallest and poorest on the continent.

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

Three of the attacking soldiers were arrested, but others made off with some weapons including rocket launchers, a senior interior ministry official said.

Two hours later, gunfire could be heard near the Mansoa barracks, one of the country's biggest, located 70km from the capital, witnesses reported.

The regional grouping Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) said a delegation headed by its Commission chairman Ibn Chambas and Burkina Faso's Foreign Minister Alain Bedouma Yoda would arrive here late on Monday on a "visit of solidarity" and take stock of the situation.

Failed attempt to seize power

Things looked normal late on Sunday, with people going about their business as usual in the capital where no roadblocks or military patrols could be seen between the airport and the city centre.

While authorities branded the pre-dawn attack as a mutiny, observers said it could also have been a failed attempt to seize power by one of the president's rivals.

Internal administration minister Cipriano Cassama told AFP there had been signs in the past few days that something was being prepared.

An army source on Sunday identified the suspected mastermind as a navy sergeant related to opposition leader Kumba Yala.

"The leader of the operation, and he who is thought to be its mastermind, is Alexandre Tchama Yala, and our agents are actively searching for him," said the source in the army's general staff who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Yala is a nephew of Kumba Yala, added the source, who offered no details about the attackers' potential whereabouts or what motivated the pre-dawn incident.

Critical time

Kumba Yala was elected president in 2000 but ousted in a bloodless coup in 2003 and now leads an opposition party.

In Addis Ababa, African Union chief Jean Ping said Vieira had called to tell him about "the failure of this morning's mutiny".

International representatives in Bissau - including the United Nations, the European Union and Ecowas - "forcefully" condemned the incident in a joint statement.

"The role of the security forces at this critical time is to support the rule of law," it said.

A statement released by the UN in New York said: "The Secretary-General has noted with great concern reports of the alleged involvement of elements of the Armed Forces of Guinea-Bissau in the attack, and calls upon them to refrain from any measures that could further destabilize the country."

Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, current head of Ecowas, "firmly" condemned the attack which he said the west African community had learned of with "great concern".