Guinea-Bissau junta gives 2-year timeframe

Associated Press

BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau (AP) — Guinea-Bissau's military leaders said Thursday they had agreed on a candidate to lead a transitional government, though the proposed two-year timeframe for organizing new elections after last week's coup was unlikely to appease the international community.

Manuel Serifo Nhamajo, who has served as vice president of the National Assembly, was chosen by junta authorities and the opposition parties who took part in the process. The overthrown ruling party was not involved and later said it "rejects any government stemming from a coup d'etat."

In New York, an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday heard calls for deployment of a U.N. force from the foreign minister in the country's ousted government and the representative of Portuguese-speaking countries.

Guinea-Bissau's Foreign Minister Mamadu Saliu Djalo, who was out of the country when soldiers violently took over the presidency on April 12, begged the council to authorize a peacekeeping force with a long-term mandate "to allow for the establishment of a legitimate democratic state in the Republic of Guinea-Bissau."

Ambassador Youssoufou Bamba of Ivory Coast, speaking on behalf of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, said it intended to deploy a "military contingent" to the West African nation, which is allowed under a U.N. Charter provision dealing with regional organizations.

"The ECOWAS mission will ensure the protection of VIPs and institutions as well as the envisaged transition and electoral process," Bamba said.

Angola's Foreign Minister Georges Rebelo Chikoti, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, urged the council to create a peacekeeping force and take measures to restore constitutional order.

Among those taking part in planning a transitional government was the party of Kumba Yala, one of the two presidential candidates in a runoff vote that was derailed by the coup.

The African Union suspended Guinea-Bissau following the coup, and ECOWAS has sent mediators.

Guinea-Bissau was just weeks away from holding a presidential runoff election when soldiers attacked the front-runner's home and arrested him along with the country's interim president.

The Security Council has condemned the coup and demanded the release of the interim president, prime minister and all senior officials illegally detained, immediate restoration of the legitimate government, and completion of the election process.

Deputy ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis of the United States, which holds the Security Council presidency this month, said members are working on a presidential statement. He said they again condemned "the military takeover — including the extraconstitutional appointments."

On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it had visited former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. and interim president Raimundo Pereira and brought medical supplies, clothing and toiletries.

The military officials behind last week's coup claim that Gomes had signed an agreement allowing troops from Angola to attack forces in Guinea-Bissau.

Angola sent about 200 troops to Guinea-Bissau in March 2011 to help reform the country's armed forces as part of a bilateral military agreement.

Foreign minister Djalo told the council the alleged agreement cited by the military officials is a letter addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "where the government requests and substantiates the need for establishment of a peacekeeping force for Guinea-Bissau." He said it seconds a letter sent days earlier by the chairman of the ECOWAS Commission.

Some analysts believe the military leaders behind the coup were concerned about interference in the country's lucrative drug trade.

Traffickers from Latin America use the nation's archipelago of uninhabited islands to land small, twin-engine planes loaded with drugs, which are then parceled out and carried north for sale in Europe.

Portugal's Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Paulo Sacadura Cabral Portas agreed with that assessment.

"What is at stake in Guinea-Bissau is a choice between a state based on constitutional rule or a failed state based on the power of drug trafficking," he said.

He backed a U.N.-mandated multinational stabilization mission including contingents from ECOWAS, the Portuguese-speaking group, and the African Union as well as financial and travel sanctions against those responsible for the coup and those who politically supported it.

No leader in nearly 40 years of independence has finished his time in office in Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony on Africa's western coast that has long been plagued by coups.

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Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations

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