Clashes between two army factions broke out in Guinea-Bissau after two government officials were freed from custody. President Umaro Sissoco Embalo has called the unrest an “attempted coup”. The clashes between the National Guard and special forces of the presidential guard started on Thursday night and continued into Friday after National Guard soldiers freed two senior government officials who were detained on a corruption investigation. The violence left at least two people dead.
Embalo, who was in Dubai attending the COP28 climate conference, arrived in Bissau on Saturday and said an “attempted coup d’etat” had prevented him from returning. He warned that the act would have serious consequences. By noon on Friday, calm had returned to the nation, following the announcement that the army had captured Colonel Victor Tchongo, the commander of the National Guard.
On Saturday, the security presence in Bissau was reduced but soldiers were still visible around certain strategic buildings such as the presidential palace, the judicial police headquarters and some ministries. Some National Guard officers and soldiers fled into the interior of the country, the army said in a statement on Saturday, without specifying numbers.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned the violence and called for the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators of the incident in accordance with the law. The regional bloc also expressed its full solidarity with the people and constitutional authorities of Guinea-Bissau. A spokesman for United Nations chief Antonio Guterres called for calm and urged the security forces and the army “to continue refraining from interference in national politics”.
According to military and intelligence sources, members of the National Guard on Thursday stormed a police station to free Finance Minister Souleiman Seidi and Treasury Secretary Antonio Monteiro. The duo had been taken in for questioning on Thursday morning about the reported withdrawal of $10m from state coffers. They had been detained under orders of state prosecutors who are named by the president. They were later detained again after the army removed them from National Guard control.
The National Guard is under the control of the interior ministry, which, like most ministries in the country, is dominated by the PAIGC party whose coalition won the June 2023 elections. Guinea-Bissau has a history of instability, with at least 10 coups or attempted coups since independence from Portugal in 1974. Only one democratically-elected president has completed a full term in office.
Embalo, who was elected to a five-year term in December 2019, survived a failed overthrow in February 2022. West Africa has been hit by multiple military takeovers over the past three years, including two in Mali, one in Guinea, two in Burkina Faso and one in Gabon. The situation in Guinea-Bissau remains tense as the government works to restore stability and security in the country.
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