Guinea-Bissau army urged to stay neutral in power struggle

Umaro Sissoco Embalo declared himself president of Guinea-Bissau last month and is touring West Africa to solicit regional legitimacy (AFP Photo/SEYLLOU)
·2 min read

Bissau (AFP) - A bloc of West African countries called Monday on Guinea-Bissau's army to remain neutral in the country's deepening political struggle, which has seen two presidents vying for power following a disputed run-off election in December.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it "firmly condemned" the latest developments in the country, which it was "following with great concern".

Those developments include the "successive investiture of two heads of state outside of legal and constitutional frameworks and the co-existence of two prime ministers," ECOWAS said in a statement.

The political leadership of Guinea-Bissau has fractured since a second-round presidential vote in December saw an opposition leader beat the candidate of the long-ruling PAIGC party.

PAIGC has dominated political life since the former Portuguese colony won independence in 1974.

But results from the National Electoral Commission showed PAIGC's candidate Domingos Simoes Pereira won 46.45 percent of the run-off vote, compared to the 53.55 percent of opposition leader Umaro Sissoco Embalo.

Pereira denounced the result as fraudulent and PAIGC pushed for a recount of tally sheets, taking the case to the Supreme Court.

However the Supreme Court has not been able to settle the dispute, and a row has broken out between it and the election panel.

Without waiting for a final ruling from the Supreme Court, Embalo conducted his own presidential swearing-in ceremony on Thursday and moved himself into the presidential palace.

On Friday, he appointed Nuno Gomes Nabiam as prime minister after sacking the internationally recognised incumbent Aristides Gomes.

On the same day the PAIGC appointed parliamentary leader Cipriano Cassama as interim president, but he resigned on Sunday saying he had received death threats and wanted to avoid a "bloodbath".

Since Friday, the army has moved into several of the country's institutions, including ministries and the national assembly, as well as well as taking control of local radio and television stations.

It is not known whether the army has chosen a side in the political tussle.

Gomes described soldiers occupying the prime minister's office on Friday as an "attempted coup".

ECOWAS said it had noted with "great concern the interference of the defence and security forces in the political sphere, and urges them to stay out of the political arena and observe a position of absolute neutrality".

One of the world's poorest countries, Guinea-Bissau has suffered chronic instability since independence, with the army often playing a major role. The country has suffered four coups and 16 attempted coups since 1974, the last one in 2012.