G-Bissau elections kept low-key

2009-06-10 19:31

Bissau - Guinea-Bissau, in the throes of near continuous political unrest since the 1970s, has quietly started the campaign for the presidential elections despite a recent spate of assassinations.

Independent presidential candidate Henrique Rosa, who was interim president of Guinea-Bissau between 2003 and 2005, told AFP Wednesday that he had toned down his campaign out of respect for the dead.

"We are limiting ourselves to small, quiet visits. Our campaign will only fully kick off Saturday, seven days after the murder of (fellow presidential candidate) Baciro Dabo," he explained.

On Tuesday, following extensive consultations with the countries political actors, civil society and representatives of the international community, interim president Raimundo Pereira announced the elections would go ahead as planned and officially declared the start of campaigning.

"The election will well and truly be will be held on June 28," he insisted.

Assassinations and coup accusations

Many had urged him not to delay the elections despite last week's assassinations of Dabo and a former defence minister accused of plotting a coup.

While the UN Security Council on Tuesday condemned the murders last Friday of Dabo, former defence minister Helder Proenca and two of his bodyguards "in the strongest terms" it urged the country to forge ahead with free and fair elections.

The council called on government, the army and the people of Guinea-Bissau "to ensure that these events will not disrupt the electoral process".

The African Union also warned the army Wednesday to refrain from political interference, saying it wanted to see "transparent, free and fair elections".

Both Dabo and Proenca were close allies of late president Joao Bernardo Vieira who ruled the West African country for 23 years, between 1980 and 1999 and 2005 and 2009.

The current political crisis in Guinea-Bissau was sparked by the brutal murder of Vieira on March 2 by members of the army apparently in retaliation for a bomb attack that killed army chief general Batista Tagme Na Waie.

Three months after the double assassinations the official probe into the president's death has not led to the arrest of any suspects despite the fact that he was attacked in front of his family.

As for the murders last week, the government says Dabo and Proenca were plotting a coup to overthrow interim president Pereira and kill the new army chief navy commander Jose Zamora Induta and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior. They were killed when soldiers came to arrest them, the authorities claim.

A former interior minister, Dabo was in charge of Vieira's personal security and as such also in charge of the security services.

Observers say he was implicated in much political manoeuvring behind the scenes. Rumours also swirled about his involvement in drugs smuggling, due to his flamboyant lifestyle.

Vicious political power struggle

In recent years Guinea-Bissau has achieved notoriety as a transit point for the cocaine trade between South America and Europe, raising fears it could become a narco-state. Political observers say the sudden influx of drugs money has considerably raised the stakes in the ongoing power feuds.

Lawyer Carlos Vamain, a political commentator for local radio, said the recent killings as were a result of a vicious political power struggle for control of scarce resources.

"In our country whoever gets power controls everything. If you lose, you lose everything," he said.

"These murders also show signs of a settling of old scores".

An investigation has also been opened into their deaths and the alleged coup plot but it is likely the incidents will just be one of dozens of unsolved assassinations of political and military officials since its independence in 1974.

The head of the European Commission's delegation in Bissau, Franco Nulli, insisted a special investigative committee be set up for the murders but was not upbeat about the outcome.

"Unfortunately we have seen several investigative commissions formed in similar circumstances, but none of the probes ever led to anything," he said.