Soldiers briefly seized Guinea Bissau premier, army chief


Lisbon/Dakar: Dissident soldiers Thursday seized the armed forces chief of Guinea Bissau and also briefly detained the prime minister, diplomatic sources in the west African nation said.

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Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior was detained in the morning and held at the military’s main headquarters in the capital Bissau. He was released a few hours later. Armed forces chief Zamora Induta was also arrested.

The arrests came shortly after soldiers fired shots and entered the UN building in Bissau to seize Bubo Na Tchuto, a former military chief who sought refuge there after returning from The Gambia in December.

Na Tchuto was accused of a coup attempt in August 2008.

Diplomatic sources said the arrests did not appear to be a coup attempt and President Malam Bacai Sanha said it appeared to be a disagreement amongst soldiers.

Hundreds of people took to the streets in protest at the arrests, chanting “Down with Dictatorship” and playing pro-democracy songs recorded by the Bissau-Guinean musician Ze Manel.

Large numbers of troops were seen on the streets of the capital, Bissau, but the situation was calm, Portuguese news agency Lusa said.

Guinea-Bissau has been blighted by instability since independence from Portugal in 1974, allowing drug traffickers to establish it as a transit point for South American cocaine going to Europe.

No president in Guinea-Bissau has completed a five-year term since the early 1990s.

President Joao Bernardo Vieira was killed by soldiers last March in an apparent revenge attack for the murder of the tiny West African nation’s army chief.

Presidential candidate Baciro Dabo, a close ally of Vieira, and other political figures were murdered by government security forces in early June. Like Na Tchuto, they were accused of planning a coup.

When Na Tchuto returned to Bissau, the UN said it hoped to resolve the situation in a “peaceful and lawful” manner.

The government insisted he be handed over in January, or return to the Gambia, but he remained at the UN building.

Diplomatic sources in Guinea-Bissau said it was only a matter of time before Na Tchuto was seized by the military, which has a history of both successful and foiled coups.

Some reports, however, said that Na Tchuto had been “freed” by soldiers loyal to him. His whereabouts was unknown.

The UN ranks Guinea-Bissau as one of the most impoverished nations in the world, with a life expectancy of just 45 years. One in five children die before their fifth birthday.